The Social Network: Is Facebook Killing Us?
Hey! Watch Where Your Going Pal!
Facebook is killing us! I repeat Facebook is killing us! Now that I have your attention, please...let me explain. We as a society have become so engulfed in social media that we are failing to realize the level of dependency we now have for it. Drug and drug addict would be a great analogy. We are addicted, and just like an addict we have built up a tolerance that requires more of the drug to keep us satisfied. Even worse, just like an addict we cannot function normally without being on the drug.
Communication between the human race is being negatively affected by a technological innovation that was invented to accomplish the absolute opposite of what it has. Social media was supposed to make it easier for us to communicate with each other, but has it done that? We now feel more comfortable speaking to each other behind the cloak of a computer screen, and less comfortable speaking to each other in person. We've opened Pandora's Box, but we don't know how to use its contents properly. Some of the older generations are psychologically equipped to differentiate between the social media world and the real world, but that really doesn't matter. It's the youth we should be concerned with. They will develop into adults that have a misleading perception of what real human communication is. In their minds there will not be a difference between the social media world and the real world. The children are indeed our future, and if our future is under the influence of an addictive mind altering drug we are destined to hit rock bottom.
Social media started out as a convenient way of keeping people in touch with each other. Through this innovative outlet, internet surfers from around the world were instantly given the ability to communicate with friends and family without having to actually talk to them. With a few uploads of your pictures and a couple lines of text, dormant friendships were given new life and everyone was excited to be part of the newest fad. Then the novelty wore off. Popular sites like Myspace became child's play and sophisticated adults became embarrassed to be a part of the fad anymore. But just when you thought it was all over for this 'new toy' here comes Facebook, rounding the corner, picking up speed, and eventually leaving all other runners eating its dust. Now it's cool again! Even better, now you have to be part of it! Everyone's on there, you don't want to be left out do you? You don't want to be an outcast? Young, old, fat, skinny, ugly, pretty, white, black, girls, guys, everyone is welcome! Oh and it's safe! Only your friends can interact with you, no strangers. Strangers are dangerous. So many ways to keep in touch with family and friends. So many ways to fight time on a slow day. So many ways to keep you entertained while you’re online. What could go wrong? How about human nature.
We are a nation of speed. In America and many of the countries that we have influenced, the fast pace is a necessity of everyday life. We have come to expect fast food, fast money, fast cars, fast women, and fast relationships. So it should be no surprise that when given the opportunity, we created fast communication. The only problem with all of these short cuts are the negative consequences we adhere to when we choose to use them in excess instead of moderation. In other words, just like too much fast food could negatively affect your mind and body so too could too much Facebook. “Using Twitter and Facebook could harm moral values, as they don't allow time for compassion or admiration, scientist warned" (The Telegraph). You don't say? I could have told you this and I'm not even a scientist. I have noticed serious news stories turn into popularity contest starving for the attention of an audience. Twenty years ago I can recall news stories about whatever war we were in at the time, being on the news for weeks. And the reports would get ample time or pages. Now we are at war with several different countries and those reports consist of quick tidbits that get pushed to the side for intimate details on the newest adventures of Charlie Sheen. While a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami wrecked Japan and caused nuclear power plant melt downs, this actor got fired from his job for admit tingly taking drugs and having sex with prostitutes. Who's the bigger news story? if you guessed the earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown triple threat your wrong. But hey just for kicks let's see what some scientists say.
The Good, The Bad, and The D'oh
"Reliance on social media has decreased the relationships formed between students and their professors due to the detachment of email, hiding the face linked to the voice." (Puglisi). Dr. Kelley Crowley, a teacher of public relations writing and principles of advertising at West Virginia University, agrees with this statement and also makes an observation that I can easily relate too, being a college student myself. She says: "students have become reticent and intimidated in the classroom to speak directly with me. Rather, they feel more comfortable sending me an email from behind a computer screen, which is impersonal and does not contain context at all." I think I said the same thing earlier in my thesis statement, and I wrote that before I read any of this research material. Crowley goes on to suggest that "avoiding personal interactions harms the competency of young professionals." She points to lack of eye contact in interviews and terrible grammar habits as negative effects on the professional lives of young adults due to overuse of cyber interactions. If college students were to moderate there use of these social networks and force themselves to type sentences that were grammatically correct, then we might be able to co-exist with this technology. But instead, most of them don't. They get distracted by gossip, entertainment, self admiration, and plain uncontrollable addiction. In addition, asking them to type sentences with out grammatical errors would be almost impossible when there are so many people to type to and the option for so many abbreviations and acronyms for words are available. Hell, I've looked over this whole thing three times and I bet you can still find errors. I am no exception.
Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Ed. D. is listed on The University of California's website as an "affective neuroscientist and human development psychologist who studies the neural, psychophysical and psychological bases of emotion, social interaction and culture and there implications for development and schools. During a 2009 study, Ms. Immordino-Yang and one of her researchers "studied the response of volunteers to real-life stories to induce compassion for physical or social pain." ( The Telegraph). This scientist's opinions and research have proved to be credible sources to back up my theory of social media being a curse. Through her study in 2009 Ms. Immordino used brain imaging to confirm that "humans sort information and respond quickly to signs of physical pain in others, but admiration and compassion- two of the social emotions that define humanity-take much longer." (The Telegraph). She believes that all of the fast paced news feeds and social networks are not allowing us the proper amount of time it takes to let our natural human emotions dissect the information we are taking in. I think the statement made by Manuel Castells, one of USC's leading sociology experts, puts this all in proper perspective. He said: "Lasting compassion in relation to psychological suffering requires a level of persistent, emotional attention." I agree, but the problem is, right now our attention spans are smaller than our cell phones. And just like our cell phones, our attention spans keep getting smaller.
Okay, okay, okay, let's try to dispute my theory for a second. Let's look at a situation where a large group of people would stand to benefit from social media more than they be negatively affected by it. Since Facebook is the largest social media provider used in the entire world, and it's creation stemmed from the idea of making communication easier for college students, what better place to find a positive opinion of social media than.....college? Surely the stressful and fast paced life of a college student can only be positively impacted by an online network which was originally created to make college student's daily activities a little more organized and convenient, right? I can see the online conversations now. No time to go out I have homework, but we can chat for a minute or two while I'm doing my paper. Or, how was that math test on Monday, I have the same teacher tomorrow what should I prepare for? This sounds great doesn't it? It sounds like this would be a great idea to cram in all of your school work and still keep in touch with your peers. It would be great, if it were only used for that.
Just The Facts Ma'am
I needed more scientific research to back up my theory. The last article wet the whistle but it wasn't enough. People respect science because it supplies logical answers, unlike religious nonsense. So I needed a study from a source that was entirely focused on social science and cyberspace. I ran into Cyberpsychololgy: A Journal of psychosocial research on cyberspace, and an article titled, "Facebook and Myspace: Complement or Substitute for Face-to-Face Interaction?" In this study a survey was given to 183 college students to examine their use of Facebook and Myspace. "The study confirmed that Facebook and Myspace do act as an extension of face-to-face interaction, but some users do tend to rely on them for interpersonal communication more than face-to-face interaction." (Kujath 75). Some users relied on them for interpersonal communication? Not most of them? Now this seems like a formidable rebuttal to my theory.
The method used for this study was a survey. The survey asked participants to estimate how many friends on either Facebook or Myspace were people they had never met before and how often they used these sites to keep in touch with people they already knew. Participants were also asked to admit how often they used either of these sites to communicate with friends online rather than in person and whether or not they view profiles of people that they did not know. Lastly, participants were asked to identify the number of times they used either of these sites per day, week, or month and how much time they spent on either of these sites each time they were on them in hours and or minutes. Keep in mind this survey was done in 2009. After the study the researchers noticed certain limitations that may had affected there outcome. For example some participatnats had an extremely high number of friends causing them to be excluded from calculations due to the fact that this suggests inaccuracy of the participants reported data. In addition to this there were inaccuracies due to online games and celebrity friends that were becoming popular at the time. All in all though at the end of the study it was determined that most participants used Facebook and Myspace to "keep in touch with people they already knew as well as meeting new people they never met before." (Kujath 76). There is one statement in this study that stood out for me and made me question the validity of many participants answers. "Responders who had friends on Facebook and/ or Myspace that they never met in person reported a median of three such friends." (Kujath 77). Really? As a user of both these social networks I have seen the most anti-social people with hundreds of friends on their pages. What social person even has a hundred friends? I don't buy this for a second, but I do need to be partial wrong for a second to prove my last point so, let's say this study is accurate. The ending paragraph of this study reads: "Using Facebook and Myspace as an extension of face-to-face interaction to maintain interpersonal relationships may enable users to broaden connections that they otherwise may not have and to strengthen existing friendships. It seems as if the use of these sites could potentially lead to a stronger or larger social circle, depending on the goals of their use." (Kujath 77).
Children Are Our Future?
In the last paragraph it was suggested that, "use of Facebook and/ or Myspace could potentially lead to a stronger or larger social circle, depending on the goals of their use." (Kujath 77). But what if the goal of their use was determined by children whose brains are not fully developed yet? Yes, the plot thickens. The current millennia adults all grew up either before or during the social media phenomenon. Through timing alone we have had the opportunity to experience a good part of our childhood developmental years without the constant distraction of social media. The kids who are growing up now have no choice but to be involved in this addictive Facebook world. Even when their online activities are monitored or if they don't own a computer kids today can still access social networks via their cell phones. And what's worse, the cell phones now come with Facebook and Twitter pre-installed! Some of them don't even allow you to remove the applications. There are a several dangerous side effects social networks produce in today's youth. "Constant distraction affects not only how well kids learn but also how their brains absorb the new information." (Conley). Children are not being given a choice to live without this drug. Remember this statement because, although I am about to point out several disturbing social networking theories, this statement explains how we could face the extinction of the human race if these theories are proven to be correct.
So you think I'm just being paranoid right? Let's step into the mind of a child in 2011. "Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centered." (Derbyshire). If you don't believe that statement just go look at your own Facebook or Twitter page if you have one. If you don't have one, go look at someone else's. Notice how it is saturated with pictures of the user and up to the minute updates of what they are doing all day long. This kind of information reminds me of the paparazzi in Hollywood, a network of camera men and women who go around taking pictures of celebrities and trying their best to find out what they are doing at all times. Are we all trying to be celebrities? Are we so desperate for attention and stardom that we have become our own paparazzi. Maybe, it seems like everyone wants to be a reality star nowadays. I guess if you can't be a real star you can now settle for being a fake one in your mind with the help of your computer and a bunch of your so called friends. Truthfully I don't give a damn if you just dropped the kids off and your going shopping, I have my own life to live. In other words you will not see me on Twitter or Facebook. But remember I am an adult; kids may not have the ability to say this. "A further six million have signed up to Twitter, the micro-blogging service that lets users circulate text messages about themselves." (Derbyshire). "But they will strike a chord with parents and teachers who complain that many youngsters lack the ability to communicate or concentrate away from their screens." (Derbyshire). Many neuroscientists like Susan Greenfield believe that repeated exposure to these websites could rewire the brain. She goes on to suggest that along with video games, instant messaging, and chat rooms, these sites will lead to poor attention spans in children. As if they are not bad enough already! She wonders if real conversations will eventually mutate into the faster paced screen dialogues. This could happen, kids already speak in massive amounts of slang, is it impossible that they would start using acronyms instead of words. O....M....G! Lady Greenfield spoke with a teacher of 30 years who had told her she had "noticed a sharp decline in the ability of her pupils to understand others." She goes on to say: "It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations." This may be true, the previous generations had less distractions and better attention spans.
The Gift or The Curse
When I first started to write this I had several theories on social media and the negative effects its having on human society and our minds. Many of my theories have been backed by experts in the fields of psychology, sociology, and the opinions of journalists who have witnessed the meteoric rise of this parasitic technological innovation. I used many different names for social media/social networks in this report but my favorite analogy is when I refer to it as a drug. Think about the effects that a drug would have on an adult as opposed to a child. The adult who's brain is fully developed is going to react to the drug differently than the child who's brain is still developing. The drug will take a longer time to have a lasting effect on the adult because of this. But the child's brain development will become irregular and the possibility of some normal human emotions and personality traits may get lost before they are given a chance to form. This will have a lasting effect on the child. And If the drug is an addictive social networking site or application that numbs the emotions, lowers attention spans, promotes narcissism, shortens communication, and glorifies instant gratification what will our future be like? Remember children and our future are one and the same. I was focused on communication problems when I started this thing. What I stumbled upon is much worst. Mark Zuckeberg and the rest of the owners of these techno-drugs have bought our brains for a low price and are using them for ad space, making themselves richer by the second. In an interview with "60 Minutes" last year the creator of Facebook who has an estimated net worth of $6.9 billion, was asked how he feels about his success. He responded with no emotion and nonchalantly said "it is kind of crazy." No emotion. I want my brain back, do you? These billionaires will call social media a gift, I would too if I got rich off it. But even if I did eventually I would realize that it is a curse, because I am not on the drug, I am thinking with a sober mind. Remember...all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.
This is Your Brain on Drugs
Puglisi, Meagan. "Social networking hurts the communication skills of college students" The Daily Athenaeum. 13 October 2010. Web. 4 April 2011.
Conley, Dalton. "Wired for Distraction: Kids and Social Media" Time. March 19, 2011. Web. 8 April 2011.
The Telegraph. "Twitter and Facebook could harm moral values, scientists warn" The Telegraph. 13 April 2009. Web. 8 April 2011.
Derbyshire, David. "Social websites harm children's brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist" Mail Online. 24 February 2009. Web. 4 April 2011.
Kujath, Carlyne. "Facebook and Myspace: Complement or Substitute for Face-to-Face Interaction?" Cyberpsychology, Behavoir, and Social Networking. Volume 14, Number 1-2 2011. 11 March 2009. Web. 8 April 2011.