9. Does social media isolate us?

When I first got on Facebook in 2005, after being “sucked in,” I began to foresee the possible negative effect of social media on humans. I wondered what the impact of ‘relational technology’ (social media, texting, chat, etc.) would have on social isolation and identity. In 2006 the Richmond Times-Dispatch asked me to write an article on my observations where you can see what I was thinking and read about my earliest experience with Facebook:

So-Called Relational Technology Might Erode Nation’s Social Fabric.

Back then, there was no research on how social media was affecting humans since it was a new phenomenon. This was going to be the topic of my research seven years ago, but unfortunately, my advising professor and I had a disconnect, and we could never agree on a thesis.

However, this new motion graphic video does an excellent job telling the story of what I’ve been seeing over the last eight years—and now there’s research to back it.

The Innovation of Loneliness from Shimi Cohen on Vimeo.

This exceptional video is based on research by Sherry Turkle and Yair Amichai-Hamburger. There are many different opinions on this subject and more research needs to be done, yet I’m among those that believe the proliferation of these new relational technologies are fundamentally changing us.

If you change communication, you change the way humans relate. If you change the way humans relate, you change humans.

Another new study published just this month supports my initial hypothesis, citing that Facebook use predicts a decline in well-being among young adults. The researchers conclude:

On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. But rather than enhancing well-being, our findings demonstrate that interacting with Facebook may have the opposite result for young adults.

The CNN article that summarizes the research says, “The more people checked Facebook, the more likely they were to feel worse about their own lives.” A 2012 article in the Atlantic entitled Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? boldly asserts:

Facebook is interfering with our real friendships, distancing us from each other, making us lonelier; and that social networking might be spreading the very isolation it seemed designed to conquer.

No wonder depression rates are up among young adults, could this be a reason?

We may not know all the specific ways in how new technologies immediately affect us and certainly not in the long run, but it is worth our attention just as we study the effect of new foods in our diets. Technology is not bad in and of itself, but what I have in question is the way we use it, understanding how that shapes us, and how to maintain a healthy balance for individual well-being and also the health of a sustainable society.

As new technologies are introduced, we quickly add it to our diet, and before we can think about how it has changed us as a species, the shift as already occurred.

The change is so insidious we cannot see it.

“Within certain limits, we humans have altered the nature and course of our own development as a species,” said Urie Bronfenbrenner of whom I wrote about in post 6. Shaping influences—Human development.

Think about those born into this sea of social media. The generation has only known a world with such technology, and thus the very way young people perceive of themselves and their relationships with others have fundamentally changed. And we still don’t exactly know how.

It can become a controversial topic because we are so reliant on our devices, but what do you think?

Let’s stop and think.

Stay updated on future posts.

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One Response to 9. Does social media isolate us?

  1. Bradford says:

    There are certainly multiple possibilities for social media eroding our society as a whole, and interpersonal connections at the individual level. My view is that understanding why and how this occurs can provide us with insights into alleviating the negative consequences of social media, while leveraging the strengths of technology to build capacity for meaningful interactions. It’s unfortunate that your academic advisor did not see the possibilities in this cutting-edge research.

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