Is Social Media Making Us Less Social? [Part 2]
October 6, 2014 2 Comments
This is Part 2 in a three-part series on social media usage. Click here to read Part 1 on three main solutions to the overall problem. Click here to read Part 3 on the impact of social media on interpersonal relationships.
Back in February 2012, I wrote a post exploring if social media (and technology in general) is making us less social and offered three ways that we can disconnect from social media in order to reconnect with real people. At that time 46% of adults owned a smartphone. As of January 2014, the number of people owning a smartphone had increased to 58% (with 29% of cell owners saying that they “can’t imagine living without” their phone). A recent study found that the average person spends 23 hours per week emailing, texting, and using social media (with Facebook accounting for 7 of the 23 hours). In other words, people are spending 14% of their week online!
Despite all the benefits, has this increased dependence on technology and social media had any negative effects on us? I’ll break my thoughts up into two posts (since one of the downsides as been a decreased attention span 🙂 ). In this post, I’ll outline some of the personal effects of social media/technology addiction and in the next post, I’ll take a look at some changes to interpersonal relationships.
So here are three primary ways that our personal lives have been negatively affected by increased social media and technology usage:
- Constant connection reduces our ability to think deeply
Human beings have limitations. We are finite beings with a finite attention spans and a finite capacity for knowledge. In contrast, the internet is an almost limitless domain of information that is constantly updated with uploads, posts, tweets, and statuses. As Dr. Douglas Groothuis has observed: “A smartphone absorbs our interest because it is so alluring. It can do so many things. And in a sense it is asking us to do so many things with it. But humans are limited. We can only think through so many things at once. We can only feel properly a limited number of things. And these technologies want to stretch us out over the entire globe with Twitter feeds, Facebook messages, and photos shared on Instagram.”
However, our brains cannot process this massive amount of information we are bombarded with. Instead of taking the time to be still and think through things like our forefathers did, we glance, skim, and scroll through our news feeds, rarely pausing to examine or ponder what we’re reading. There is significant danger in taking everything at face value and not doing the intellectual legwork necessary to verify, digest, and apply information. The result: many people have become shallow thinkers. What’s the danger of shallow thinking? Tim Challies sums it up: “If we are unable to think deep thoughts, we will be unable to live deep lives. The best-lived life is the life that flows from deep contemplation, and especially deep contemplation of the deepest truths. Distraction is the enemy of the best kind of life.” [For more on how the internet is affecting our brains, read the provocative article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?“]
- Constant connection removes us from the present
I recently attended a concert where my brother and his band, People in the Fight, were opening for Phil Wickham. There was a man in front of my friends and I that was holding up his iPad to record video throughout Phil’s entire set. While this man should get an honorable mention for his exceptional arm endurance, he illustrates the second issue caused by our technology: the way it prevents us from living in the present.
This issue has led to a number of prominent bands and artists banning cellphones at their concerts because they want people to enjoy their performance in person instead of through a screen (of course, there is probably a financial motivation for this too). Couples are also beginning to ban cell phones at their weddings because they want people to be present for their big day (and to keep screen from getting in the way of the wedding photographer’s shots like in these shots). Add to this “pics or it didn’t happen” mentality the temptation to constantly check your phone and you have a generation of individuals living a disembodied life in a digital nebulous removed from the present reality.
- Constant connection magnifies our discontent
What do you do when you’re bored? If you’re like me, you turn to your smartphone in hopes that it will provide a small dose of entertainment. Mobile technology and social media allow us to stay up-to-date on what is happening in the lives of our friends and family members. Open up Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and you’ll be greeted by beautiful landscapes, witty puns, smiling groups of people, inspiring quotes, or newborn babies. We are able to constantly observe what’s happening in the world, almost in real-time.
While this is a great perk, it can also produce feelings of insecurity, discontentment, sadness, and loneliness. In a two-week study of Millennial social media use, Ethan Kross at the University of Michigan found that “the more people who used Facebook, the more their life satisfaction dropped.” Why is this? The primary reason is that we play a comparison game. We see what others share online and measure our own activities, life stage, and achievements against theirs, even though we know that it is an idealized portrayal of their life (this is especially true when all your friends are getting married and having babies and you’re still living the single life). Of course, your friends don’t post things hoping to make you jealous and these aren’t always the feelings we have when browsing social media (or no one would use it). However, an overdependence on technology as a way to amuse and entertain us when we are bored can magnify the discontentment that led us to seek the amusement in the first place.
How do we counteract these effects? One thing we tend to forget is that we can (and should!) have authority over technology, technology doesn’t have to hold authority us. If you notice any of these changes occurring in your life, it is time to regain control. Instead of reaching for your phone the next time you’re bored, look up and observe what’s happening around you. Be present where you are. Chances are that you might be amazed by the world and people that surround you.
Learn It. Love It. Live It.
>”Six Ways Your Phone is Changing You” by Tony Reinke
>”Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr
>”Saving the Lost Art of Conversation” by Megan Garber
>”Get Alone Undistracted” by Tony Reinke
[image credit: Victor on Flickr]