Social Media: Effects on Socialization

I’m not a big fan of FB/Twitter (I engage in it reluctantly), primarily because of its destructive effects on socialization, especially amongst adolescents.  It’s hard enough being a teenager, but the stressors associated with social media are exponentially larger than in previous generations.

If, for example, in 1999 you were a 15 year old kid who puked at a party, there might’ve been 3 or 4 people who, witnessing it, had a good laugh. Everyone else heard about it secondhand, good for a chuckle perhaps, but with proportionally less immediacy and meme-longevity (actually seeing something is quite different than hearing about it.)
But today, someone would be filming the vomit-session on their cellphone, before instantaneously sending it off into cyberspace for FB/Twitter followers. Then, a ‘Lord of the Flies’-like mob behavior ensues, where the kid that puked is absolutely humiliated, because everyone has now ‘seen’ it, and the trending of the post reinforces itself, much like the way the Beltway cocktail circuit reinforces MSM memes.

As a result, we’re seeing more tragedies like (just in the past week) this and this.

If social media turns out to be largely an over-hyped fad (and I think it is, overdue for a reverse pendulum swing as people inevitably crave actual human interaction), this type of tragedy will likely subside. If not, then we’ll see more of it.

A new survey finds:

Rudeness and throwing insults are cutting online friendships short with a survey on Wednesday showing people are getting ruder on social media and two in five users have ended contact after a virtual altercation.

As social media usage surges, the survey found so has incivility with 78 percent of 2,698 people reporting an increase in rudeness online with people having no qualms about being less polite virtually than in person.

MIT’s Sherry Turkle writes about these dynamics in the excellent book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. From the book’s review in Publishers Weekly:

As the digital age sparks increasing debate about what new technologies and increased connectivity are doing to our brains, comes this chilling examination of what our iPods and iPads are doing to our relationships from MIT professor Turkle (Simulation and Its Discontents). In this third in a trilogy that explores the relationship between humans and technology, Turkle argues that people are increasingly functioning without face-to-face contact. For all the talk of convenience and connection derived from texting, e-mailing, and social networking, Turkle reaffirms that what humans still instinctively need is each other, and she encounters dissatisfaction and alienation among users: teenagers whose identities are shaped not by self-exploration but by how they are perceived by the online collective, mothers who feel texting makes communicating with their children more frequent yet less substantive, Facebook users who feel shallow status updates devalue the true intimacies of friendships. Turkle’s prescient book makes a strong case that what was meant to be a way to facilitate communications has pushed people closer to their machines and further away from each other.

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