We are all embedded into vast, expansive social networks. The once-famed “6 degrees of separation” concept has been replaced by “3 clicks of separation”. The internet and all its’ networking capabilities have connected us. Between the dozens of available email and texting platforms, and the social content-sharing sites such as Instagram and Twitter- the technological mediums available to us in 2017 make it such that our social webs are almost entirely digitized. Information relay, interpersonal interaction and content sharing occurs instantaneously. But is this rapidity and convenience indefinitely beneficial to us as human beings? With this new, instant format of the digital landscape, it’s useful to examine the instances in which social media is detrimental, and the ways in which it is advantageous.
Online social medias allow us to meet people we would otherwise not encounter. Our real-life social interactions are often constrained by practical factors such as geography- the cities in which we live, our workplaces, the institutions we frequent. Other limiting factors can be sociological – the community to which we belong, and types of individuals that surround us, based on income, race, etc.The internet transcends these boundaries and allows us to encounter and connect with others on the basis of a commonality of interests, thus creating rare, novel relationships. This creates a “hand-picked” effect, so to speak – individuals target one another and choose who to befriend, who to date – potentially translating into more genuine, strong connections between individuals. Similarly, social media is enhancing human connectivity as people can converse with a frequency that was not once possible.
On the other hand, the digitization of our social behaviors has in many instances, devalued interpersonal connections. We rely heavily on our electronic devices for conversations that would be better had in person, or at least verbally executed over the phone. Entire conversations and even meetings are held over text- preventing us from the human aspect of conversing, such as identifying voice inflection and body language. In the event that we are around friends and acquaintances in person, the addictive nature of cell phones and constant notifications causes us to ignore our true surroundings. Moreover, the majority of the time we spend using our cell phones is not to converse, but to fulfill our impulsive need for gratification and immediate updates. “Our cell phones satisfy our need to know what’s happening in the world around us. Over 80% of phone use is not to actually speak on the phone, but to access all the other offerings of a cell phone – GPS, news, email, social catching-up, text conversations.” Explains Dr. Tim Pollard, professor of Telecommunications. Social media allows us to “communicate” without truly saying anything. A photo “like”, a “retweet” – these are exchanges of attention, but they lack substance. They are blanket interactions, or “one-size-fits-all” exchanges. One could say social media has superficialized and unauthenticated our connections.
It would serve us well to practice technological mindfulness – that is, consider the intentions surrounding our social media use. With this impersonal element in our interpersonal relationships, there is value in making an effort to connect in person when possible. Likewise, it’s important to be attentive to those who surround us in daily life- social media shouldn’t distract us from communicating with those physically present. On the contrary, if distance or other factors are hindering connection, then social media should be optimized.