November 22, 2010

Is Social Media Making You Anti-Social

Social Media has made it de rigueur to talk to people in ways that once were considered rude or inappropriate. We no longer encourage eye contact because that removes our ability to check our email, tweet, blog or update our Facebook status.

It has gotten so bad in my house that I once made my 6.5 year old daughter scream in terror. You see, I walked into her bedroom and told her that if she didn't clean up her room she wasn't going to be able to go on her playdate. It seemed like a rather innocuous request and certainly not one that was going to make her scream.

However I had forgotten that she no longer recognizes my face and consequently was frightened because she thought that a strange man had broken into her house. Fortunately I am quick witted so I whipped out my BlackBerry and looked down at my screen. Having become intimately familiar with the top of my head she immediately calmed down and requested that I never scare her like that again.

Still I was concerned so I made a point of sitting next to her on the bed so that I could show her pictures of her daddy. Apparently that was the wrong thing to do because she immediately screamed and said that the stranger was back. Fortunately she could smell my cologne (Polo) and recognized my hands as belonging to daddy.

Ok, this story is a bit of an exaggeration. She screamed because discovered that the puppy had chewed up one of her dolls and not because she didn't recognize me. But that doesn't change the question/comment about how social media can make us all antisocial.

Humans are social creatures and we need to interact with others. If you don't believe me I recommend that you take a moment to think about the psych class you took in college. You know the one, it was that lower division course that you had to take as an elective to fulfill your general ed requirements.

So it makes plenty of sense that we would be interested in using tools and applications that provide a method for that interaction. I love to write and would do so even if no one read or commented on these posts. But I gain far more pleasure out of it when there is interaction. I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends I might not otherwise speak with.

But I also make a point to try and talk to my friends. Call me a dinosaur but I prefer verbal communication. I am not satisfied with just text. It is nice to see photos on Facebook, but I want to hear about the trip too. Yet what happens with increasing frequency is that verbal communication is becoming infrequent. It is often not the norm and instead of social media fostering interaction it is helping to build little cocoons of technology.

We are becoming a world of "boys in the bubble" where we don't sit through a meal without checking our email or tweeting about how good our steak is. There is nothing profound about this. I am not the first person to complain/comment nor will I be the last.

The world we are creating is what makes it possible for a woman to spend to engage in a social media experiment where for 30 days her interaction with people will be limited to that which is provided by technology.

As a father I wonder and worry about this. Though I have had a cellphone for more than ten years and a computer for far longer I know what life is like without it. I remember the time when I wasn't constantly connected. It is a world that my children have never seen and that concerns me.

It is not always good to be so connected. I say that as someone who constantly is. Work requires me to be at my computer throughout the day and when I am not tethered to it I have a BlackBerry that helps out. The BlackBerry is a great tool. I love how it makes it possible for me to have more mobility. I love being able to go sit on a beach or hang out at a park and work.

Yet it is also an electronic leash. Those people who know I have it expect immediate or semi-immediate replies to their calls/emails/texts. Instant gratitude leads to instant impatience.

So I have made a point of turning it off. I have made a point of disconnecting from that bells, beeps, whistles and dings because I have been trained to respond just like Pavlov's dog. Even when my phone is off the sound of an alert in my general vicinity makes me reach for my pocket.

And though I would very much like to share more with you I have found that I cannot. Because I haven't updated my Facebook status in hours nor have I tweeted about what I had for lunch. So ciao for now, social media is calling my name.

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