Living in an anti-social network

By Fatima Ghanem

The use of contemporary social media has dramatically changed the way human beings interact. A couple of decades ago, the idea that one could connect with just about anyone in the world from their home as quickly as desired was unheard of. Thirty years ago, people did not make plans on the fly through texting — they made arrangements beforehand and met their friends at designated spots, which encouraged commitment and careful time management. Often, when friends suggest meeting, their conversations are followed by flurries of garbled text messages consisting of disorganized attempts to rendez-vous.

Many millenials are at a point in time where we depend on the use of social media and instant messaging to interact with one another. This technology can be useful and convenient but we’ve lost ourselves to the ease and comfort afforded by it. It might be rare to spot someone without a smartphone, but the mass use of social media is still constrictive and destructive.

Humans have developed an intricate system of social cues through natural selection and adaptation. We have developed ways of interacting with others by perceiving intonation of voice and interpreting non-verbal language, like facial expression and body language. We are so good at performing these actions naturally that we can communicate our thoughts and feelings through the simple exchange of a smile or a frown. This ability to integrate and understand each other is diminishing with the advent of technology and social media.

Facebook is the world’s most popular social network with over a billion users, half of which are active almost every day. Statistics on the global usage of Facebook, which were released last month indicate that Canadian usage of Facebook is higher than both the global and the US average. 19 million Canadians log into Facebook at least once a month, while 14 million check their newsfeed every day. I remember when Facebook rose to prominence in 2006. At this time, social networks had already begun creeping up everywhere and I had already explored a few of them. Many of you will remember the dark days of Nexopia or your forgotten Myspace accounts which few use anymore. My experiences with social media might be similar to yours. I was peer-pressured into creating a Facebook account by the end of high school but found myself spending an excessive amount of time using it to groom my self-image and assess others. Eventually, I deactivated my account.

A study performed by a team of researchers from the University of Michigan on the use of social media and its effects on the mental well-being of young adults provides evidence confirming my sentiments on Facebook and social media as a whole. The study was done through the use of experience sampling, a reliable method of assessing the effects of social media on loneliness, self-esteem and depression. The findings were unsurprising. Young adults who used Facebook regularly were more likely to report a depressed state of emotional and psychological health.

Each time you log onto Facebook, you are bombarded with images and status updates from your friends and colleagues, who are often up to amazing things. There’s your friend Shannon looking gorgeous at a party that you were not invited to. There is your friend Dave conquering Mount Kilimanjaro while you sit at home in pajamas and watch reruns of Seinfeld. There is a status update about your friend Vlad’s acceptance to a Master’s program at Stanford, tabbed beside an email from your professor reminding you that they will not accept your late paper and you have an F headed in your direction. People are likely to report the greatest things about their lives on social media — this encourages a sense of diminished self-esteem for onlookers.

This lowered self-esteem perpetuates a tendency to rely on social media for self-validation. We are familiar with the absurdities of Facebook. We see people posting strongly biased opinions to which they are uncommitted, all for the sake of eliciting attention from others, or constant pictures of repetitive poses designed to accumulate likes and comments. During my time on Facebook, I realized that I had become averse to interacting with others on a one-on-one basis, opting instead to use a flawless screen of obscurity. We can flirt with attractive baristas and classmates without having to change out of our sweatpants and ratty t-shirts. Validating oneself without ever having to leave home has created a culture in which genuine human interaction has become a diminished art. There are far better ways to interact with our friends and family. Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with others but we should make a conscious effort to not take it so seriously and realize that authentic, face-to-face interaction with each other is a natural state of being.

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