This question has been doing the rounds for a while now. Indeed when anything becomes so popular it chews large chunks of people’s time, the question of whether it is actually making people less social is raised.
In the 1970’s when television became a common fixture in the lounge room, the society at large worried about it making people less concerned with face to face contact. They worried it would instead encourage the masses to watch endless hours of mindless shows which would ultimately result in a global epidemic of couches suffering the indignity of permanent body indentations.
When the internet really started to kick off and connect the globe, again the concern was that it was going to sweep away people’s tendency to be social, and encourage them to spend all of their free time on the internet, losing themselves in an intangible world.
I have to stop this train of thought right here. Last time I checked humans were (sometimes arguably) the most evolved species, not only have we scored an opposable thumb but we are also lucky enough to have bestowed upon us advanced power of reason. In other words as a race, us humans are perfectly adept at making, ‘…sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions and beliefs.’
When presented with a television, and then the internet, did the world’s population suddenly become introverted and refuse to speak directly to another person’s face? I think not.
Enter social media. We are all capable of deciding whether or not this social playground is for us, and what kind of impact we will allow it to have on our daily activities. It is my firm belief that while television, the internet and social media offer a certain level of escapism and freedom that reality sometimes cannot offer, it does not bring about any social activities that aren’t already inherent to each individual person.
For example, Mr Smedia was a young man of 23. He was not naturally a very outgoing person and spent a lot of time studying for his accountancy degree. He has many acquaintances, but only one true friend who he played Xbox with on weekends. Mr Smedia enjoyed time alone, and loved the internet for that very reason. Upon discovering social media, merely added this to his list of most visited websites.
Clearly this is a fabricated tale of a non-existent person – but it still reinforces my theory that no matter what you do in life – every time a new media is introduced its only giving you a platform to be more open to who you inherently are in the first place. Thus if you are naturally quite an introverted person – social media will draw you in because you can be freer with your peers then you could face to face. Extroverts will love it as well – just another way to organise their social calendar and stay in the loop! So if anything social media makes people MORE social then they were, or at least on par.
A recent British study found that access to the Internet and the web, and especially to social networks such as Facebook, can improve people’s levels of happiness. The study discovered that access to the internet actually resulted in improved overall well-being of lower-income users, those with a lower level of education because it gave them a sense of freedom and control over their lives.
‘Low – mid income earners feel the positive effects of IT,’ BCS the Chartered Institute for IT, 2010
Check out the full reports and watch the vid here.
So I am sticking with my theory that social media is not making is less social, and is a platform that allows people to have greater freedom to be who they are. Let me know if you think you have a better notion.