Humans, by nature, are social creatures. We rely heavily on our relationships and interactions with others for security, connection, and fulfillment. With the onset of the digital age, however, we must now answer a new (and potentially very serious) question: is the medium we rely on the most to establish human interaction actually undermining our ability to connect?
The First Uses Of Social Media
The very first social media platform (a service called Six Degrees) was introduced in 1997. Since that time, social media has evolved and expanded to include today’s most popular platforms, such as a Facebook and Twitter. Some people readily embraced social media when it was first introduced, but many others were very hesitant to build profiles and start connecting with their friends online. As more and more people embraced the social media trend, however, the scales began to tip. Today, 1 in 5 people have an active Facebook account. (Source: International Business Times).
Not-So “Social” Media?
Social media’s mass appeal has roots in the very basic components of human nature. As humans, we need to be connected with those around us. Social media allows us to establish and maintain these connections with everyone from our closest friends to our most distant acquaintances, at any times of the day or night. In the beginning, social media served as a great way to augment the everyday interactions we had with our friends and family. Today, however, most people spend more time interacting with their friends online than they do in person – and the repercussions from this cultural shift cannot be ignored.
Though we may try to convince ourselves otherwise, the bonds we form over social media cannot be compared with the bonds we form when we spend time in person with one another. Online relationships do not foster as much depth as direct, in-person interactions; many people who meet and make friends online discover that they must still get to know each other all over again when they finally meet in person.
Not only that, but the skills required to forge online connections are very different than the skills required to interact with other human beings face to face. This tells us that, while we may not realize it, the very thing that we rely on to fulfill our social needs may actually be hurting our ability to form the supportive, in-person relationships we need to not only survive, but thrive.
Overcoming These Challenges
Losing the skill and ability to interact with others face-to-face or even voice-to-voice (over the phone) can have several undesirable consequences. For example, in my experience as a limited licensed psychologist in Michigan, I have encountered many teenagers, young adults, and even some mature adults who are anxious about simply making a phone call to order pizza. You have surely seen many of these consequences at work in your personal lives as well. Think about it – when families gather around the dinner table, how many of them have their cell phones in their hands?
The pervasiveness of social media and our reliance on mobile technology cannot be ignored. The challenges are significant for adults who have become reliant on social media in their adult lives, but impact they have on teenagers and young adults (those who grew up with mobile devices in their hands) can be completely overwhelming. It is imperative that we become aware of these patterns and take active steps to overcome them.
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