Is Social Media Making Us Less Social?

Social Media Buttons

We are increasingly being flooded – bombarded even – by news and information from an ever-increasing number of social media channels. Increasingly, news is coming to us through our friend and interest networks, via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and LinkedIn especially. Our cognitive powers in making sense of it, finding the signal within the noise, have never been more challenged.

Some people talk of information anywhere, anytime, but in fact, isn’t it more a case of information everywhere all the time? You can’t get away from it.

There was an article in the press recently querying:  “Are you an “Infomaniac”?

According to the article:

  • 34% check their smartphone after sex,
  • 23% go on Twitter more than 10 times a day,
  • 51% check social network sites at dinner,
  • 62% use their phones while shopping and
  • 42% will stop a conversation if their phone beeps.

One person was quoted: “Sometimes I wake up in the night and reach for my phone so I can do a Tweet”.

And another: “I take pictures of my food, my feet….pretty much anything and post it online”.

Yes, I think I’m following a few people like that, which reminds me I must do a bit of ‘weeding’ on my Twitter account!

Some other useful (?) statistics that seem to reinforce this sense of  “information pervasiveness”:

  • The average Briton now has 26 Internet accounts for everything from email and bank services to online shopping, social media sites, Skype and Paypal.
  • The average worker checks his email inbox 36 times every hour.
  • 1 in 3 smartphone owners would rather give up sex than their mobile phone (Pew Research)
  • 90% of 18 – 29 year olds say they will sleep wit their phone in or beside their bed (Pew Research)
  • 1 in 10 say they are woken at least a few times per week by calls, texts or emails (Pew Research)

This all seems to reinforce the growing phenomenon of FOMO, pronounced FO-MO, meaning ‘fear of missing out’. These people want or need to be connected to their email and social media channels 24 x 7. And apparently there is another new phobia you can add to the list of human paranoia – Nomophobia. It’s the fear of losing your cell/mobile phone!

But whilst we complain about information overload and having no time to do the quality things in life, we are at the same time adding to the volume. Everyone has a voice and everyone wants to be heard. Which reminds me of the quote by Clay Shirkypublishing isn’t a job any more, it’s a button”.

And if it’s so easy to publish, it’s even easier to share – just one click of a button and it’s shared with all of your Facebook/Twitter/Google+ followers. And your network of friends and followers will in turn share with their networks. Tweets beget more tweets, which might stimulate new comments and new Tweets. And so it goes on. No wonder we’re drowning in information, and social media has made it all so easy. But are we losing something in this morass of news and information, made possible by simple one-click interfaces and frictionless sharing?

I only realised through a conversation with a friend that her relationship with her now ex-boyfriend, was predicated on a whole new protocol of ‘Unfriending’ on Facebook.  You no longer have to have a face-to-face discussion to end a relationship; it can all be done with a click of a button!

Perhaps this one-button-does-everything mentality that we’re now so used to is making us less social and more insensitive to the feelings of others? We have a paradox where social media is reinforcing anti-social behaviour.

It will be interesting to see what 2013 brings in terms of new and shiny social media tools and social networks, but it doesn’t take a philosopher to predict that the cycle of news and information propagation is going to get faster, more people are going to get connected to the Internet, more people will have a voice, and finding that signal amongst all of the noise is going to get that much harder.

Maybe we should think about what we’re losing – the social skills that help us establish trust and understanding with our fellow human beings, and rediscovering those quality conversations. A New Year’s resolution maybe?

Happy Christmas!

About Steve Dale

Stephen Dale is both an evangelist and practitioner in the use of Web 2.0 technologies and Social Media applications to support personal development and knowledge sharing. He has a deep understanding of how systems and technology can be used to support learning and facilitate smarter working, where connections and conversations are the key to self-development and creativity within the organisation.
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4 Responses to Is Social Media Making Us Less Social?

  1. John Popham says:

    Some good points, Steve, and I agree to an extent. But, there is a counter-argument, which I’ve spelt out here http://johnpopham.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/social-media-is-not-anti-social/

  2. Steve Dale says:

    Thanks John – interestingly I agree with you as well! As a fairly active user of all things “social media” I think I place myself firmly in the “pro” camp. The point I was trying to make is that some people (and I’m not guiltless) have become so addicted to social media tools that they use them almost exclusively, neglecting other forms of communication, e.g. a conversation on Facebook instead of picking up the telephone, or “unfriending” someone via a button rather than having a F2F conversation (assuming that is possible in terms of relative locations). As in all things in life, we need to maintain a sense of perspective, and avoid “addiction” to any one medium. And I still think a F2F conversation is worth a million tweets!

  3. Desimates says:

    That’s true.Social media makes us less social in real life but if we use it properly then we can build our new connections using it even we can get some good knowledge from experts.

  4. Steve Dale says:

    Thanks for the comment. I think the critical part of your sentence is “…if we use it properly…”, and that’s really the point I was trying to make. As with all things in life, you have to strike a balance, and for social media you need to balance your “real world” life with your virtual world.

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