Is Social Media Making Us Less Social? [Part 1]
February 24, 2012 5 Comments
This is Part 1 in a three-part series on social media usage. Click here to read Part 2 on the personal effects of social media.
Social media is a fantastic new medium for communication. It connects people from all over the world almost instantaneously and allows them to share their passions with each other. I readily admit that I’m a social media nerd. It’s been incredible to see how sites like Facebook and Twitter have transformed the way that business is done, relationships are conducted, information is shared, TV is watched, and music is listened to. Whether you think this change is good or bad, it’s happening and it’s happening fast.
While I am a big advocate of using social media, I often wonder, “Is it making us less social in real life?” Are we getting so used to instant communication and virtual relationships that we are having a hard time interacting with real people?
Allow me to illustrate:
I have been involved with the youth group at Harvard Avenue Baptist Church since 2007. During my time there, it has become much more common for students to have their phones out texting their friends (some of whom are actually there at the youth building too), checking their Facebook, or playing a game like Angry Birds or Temple Run. Despite being surrounded by their peers, friends, and adult leaders, many of them choose digital reality over actual reality. Isn’t that crazy?
It’s not just middle and high school students that are becoming so engrossed in social media that they disconnect from their social lives. College students and adults are just as bad. Many (including myself as I write this post) leave their social networks running in the background as they work. Some even find themselves checking their social networks on their mobile device while they’re in front of their computer. For example, one of my Facebook friends (a middle-aged woman) recently posted this as her Facebook status:
“I was on FB on my computer and then checked it on my phone (while I was still looking at it on my computer). LOL. I guess I was hoping there would be something different on there. Haha!”
Is the digital world really that appealing or are we so used to instant communication through an online facade that they have a hard time talking with someone face-to-face to find out what’s happening in each other’s lives? Are we so busy keeping up with what people are doing via their social media that we aren’t making anything happen ourselves?
A recent Mashable article calls attention to this ironic disconnect between our virtual and real selves: “There’s no doubt that social networking has transformed the way we interact with friends and family, and has made the world a more open and connected place. There’s just one problem — social networking is not actually social.”
There are two potential solutions to this problem: make social media more social (as the article suggests) or develop more personal discipline when it comes to social media. If you’re interested in the first solution, then read the rest of the Mashable article here.
As for the second solution, here are a few quick tips to help you (and me) disconnect from social media and reconnect with your offline networks:
- Connect with your real friends, followers, connections, and circles
If you want to be social with your offline networks, sometimes you have to take the initiative. Contact some of your friends (or someone you’d like to get to know better) and schedule some time to have coffee, eat lunch, or do an activity (hiking, shopping, studying, watch a movie, etc). If you have a hard time making conversation, you can invite more than one person and/or take some time before you meet to plan out some things to talk about. You can even implement some social media practices in your real friendships: “comment” on what your friends have to say, “like” what they are sharing by nodding your head or smiling, “retweet” something you talked about with one of your other friends, or create your own “circles” to “hangout” with (just make sure you don’t go around “poking” everyone).
Most importantly: when you are with other people, keep your phone in your pocket!
- Schedule social media communications
Want to be on social networks less, but still want to have an active social media presence to build your personal brand? I suggest using a service like HootSuite that allows you to spend just a few minutes each day scheduling your posts for the rest of the day. Then you can pick two or three time slots on throughout your day to check your networks and interact without feeling the need to be logged on all day. It’s been a big help for me.
- Get plugged in to your world, not the wall
One of the main reasons people get so engrossed in social networks is that they are bored. To solve this problem, find ways to stay busy: volunteer with a local organization, find a book to read, get involved in a local recreation league, spend time with friends. I’ve found the busier I am, the less inclined I am to check my social networks.
Disconnect to Connect
Take a step back and assess yourself: are you spending more time being “social” online or socializing with the real people around you? Then start implementing some of the above tips in your daily life. It may be awkward at first, but it will pay big dividends in the long run.
Don’t get me wrong, social media is a great way to stay in touch with people, especially those that have moved away or other connections you’ve made, but don’t let it be a replacement for real, quality friendships.
Learn It. Love It. Live It.
[image credit: ClearFrost on Flickr]