Do social media make users more or less social?
Communication and information technology have improved rapidly over the last two decades, with a significant development being the rising of social media. The speediness of this change is so accelerated. Mobile technology, for instance, has played a crucial role in shaping the effect of social media. Mobile devices are dominant across the world in terms of the number of hours people spend online. This has provided a means for people to connect all over, using any device available at every moment. As its primary intention, social media is a platform for connection. The key purpose behind Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other platforms is that people can establish a vast array of networks, obtain regular updates from friends and people in their lives, and create a sense of family and community. However, recent developments show that social media is drifting people apart and creating a sense of loneliness.
Over the past few years, the world has adopted different media sites for communication. According to Simplilearn (2021), approximately a quarter of the population across the world is using Facebook. The U.S alone has almost 80% of its population on this site. Social networks have grown powerfully because it has fed off physical interactions among people. Under internet access, every person has developed a marginal perception that he or she is not alone. And when they realize through social media that they are not alone, they do several things (such as creating memes), which are online worlds that boost their worldview and find a way into the mainstream. Older Facebook users see it as a fundamental site to create connections beyond the people they interact with physically. In nine out of ten nations with older Facebook users, users of age 50 years and above are more likely to report meeting only a few friends on a routine basis than younger users. Castell (2001), in his book The Internet Galaxy, outlines the use of emails by most people as a complementary method of interacting with kin and friends that they meet and have physical interactions rather than a site for building new relationships. Marianne Franklin (2014) looks at the internet and the surrounding dynamics of power and resistance. She outlines how people, countries, and multilateral institutions have their decisions influenced by social media practices. Bennett and Segerberg (2013) state that, “we are the 99% that travel easily through social media.” By this, they mean that communication functions as an organizational procedure that supplements or replaces similar forms of collective responsibility. In other instances, connective actions emanate from crowds.
The good thing about social media is that users have high chances of encountering people who hold different racial, political, social, and religious backgrounds. According to Silver and Huang (2019), who surveyed 11 nations, a significant percentage of individuals of various income levels than those with the same levels say that they often meet people of other religions, races, or political affiliations through social media. Approximately 66% occasionally or frequently interact with individuals of other income levels, even from other countries. A fewer percentage regularly interact with individuals of different religious, racial, political identities.
“Without social media, social, ethical, environmental and political ills would have minimal visibility (Simplilearn, 2021).” This shows that the enlarged visibility of issues among the people has removed the power of balance from a few people and taken it to the hands of the masses. While this is true, social media is gradually killing actual activism and substituting it with slacktivism. Social media activism is essential in creating awareness about society’s issues, but the awareness does not translate into substantial change. Others argue that social sharing encourages people to use phones and computers to air out their concerns on media sites without necessarily engaging the issues in their real lives. The support for this argument is limited to receiving likes to the shared content. Christian Fuchs’s (2013) approach to the effect of social media is like a song of praise for the positive effects it has had on society. The article addresses the potentials of media in the political and social spheres but does not bring out the complexities and the problematics. Fuchs states that “we need a society and a social media that benefit not just some of us but also all of us (p. 11).” This statement relates to the more extensive discussion of the level to which social media is social (in terms of being accessible, participatory, and representative). This is argued upon the foundation that understanding social philosophy and societal impacts should be mandatory to investigate the societal effects it has. This helps in the regulation of social media outcomes.
Social media contributes to social isolation. The first study that was conducted by Kraut et al. (1998) when people were beginning to use the internet showed that “…greater use of the Internet was associated with declines in participants’ communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their depression and loneliness.” According to Engler (2019), many people who access social media sites feel alone and isolated despite the ever-present promise of the online community. For instance, on sites like Facebook, most commonly, people have thousands of friends, yet the situation doesn’t live up to the hype in reality. Although they have hundreds of online friends, they have few individuals who are real friends in real life. These circumstances raise the question of whether social media is creating and strengthening our community or harming people’s ability to connect in person since they spend the most time on computers and phones.
The use of social media has largely contributed to the loss of interpersonal skills among people. Three main issues are emerging in regards to the role social media plays in people’s communication styles (Subramanian, 2017):
- When people communicate through social sites, they trust the people they communicate with, so conversations are more accessible and open.
- People’s social connections are not improved in social media like they are physical, so relationships are not so deep-they only exist in the status quo.
- People tend to interact and follow people who hold the same perception, limiting diversity in ideas and viewpoints.
Social media affects many facets of our modern life. It has a profound influence on interpersonal communication. Currently, there is hardly enough time for families and individuals because of the need for a wife and a husband to be employed to meet the current lifestyle demands. Time is a very precious resource, where individuals are looking for means to save time due to a paced life. Individuals require interactions to fulfill their social needs, and media sites have become preferred platforms for communication with the provision of mobile and digital technologies. The process of digitalization has minimized face interactions, whether they are for personal communication, business, or any other reason. Mobile phones have created social situations where people are now getting used to avoiding physical communications by switching to phones. Nowadays, time is limited, which has made the use of phones and mobile devices useful in social contact.
Steve Rose (2021) states that “Social Media is making us less social when used to compare oneself to others. It is contributing to higher levels of loneliness and lower levels of well-being among frequent users.” According to her, social media can only be sociable when it is used to connect with other individuals. In the era where people have become more socially connected online, at times, it feels like they’ve become less social. One would not think of going through several inconveniences to meet up with someone they would catch up online through one of the media sites. Over the past few years, technology has dramatically changed the nature of communication. Some people claim to be hyper-social because they are constantly connecting and communicating with many individuals simultaneously. Others are termed as anti-social because they are glued to their devices and lack interpersonal skills. Jenkins et al. (2013) encourage everyone to help in creating a social media environment that is more participatory and more inclusive than before. They urge the governments, activists, educational institutions, companies, journalists, and artists to support the culture where social media products can freely be shared instead of restricting them (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. 305). In this manner, meaningful interactions shall be enhanced, and a solid foundation for relationships shall be created on media sites.
In conclusion, using social media to connect one person to another facilitates interaction by making people feel more social and less lonely. Thanks to social media distance, weather conditions, among other factors, cannot pose as a hindrance to communication. However, it is unfortunate that as the number of social media users increases, people become lonelier. This trend is an indication that people may not be utilizing the available sites most socially, but they use them to compete and compare each other. Additionally, users may be compromising physical interactions at the expense of online interactions. These two factors enlarge the potential of experiencing social isolation.
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Subramanian, KR 2017, ‘Influence of Social Media in Interpersonal Communication’, International Journal of Scientific Progress and Research, vol. 38, no. 2, pp.70-75.