In 2005 I opened a Facebook account when I was sent an invitation via email to join the new #Social media website. Within 2 weeks I had more than 500 new friends from across the United States. Friends that I would never meet nor seldom even chat with when online. In 2008 I opened a new Facebook account and began searching for friends from back in my school days. Within less than two years I had gained not only 200 friends from school, but also nearly 1000 more from around the world that I had never heard of. In 2010 I decided to open a Twitter account. I seldom used the site until 2013 but when I did I realized just what a great impact Twitter had on my professional life. Business seemingly began to boom for me all because of a few 140 character tweets made each day. In early 2011 I received a private invitation to join Google+ prior to its official launch in September of 2011. Of course I joined just as most #Internet addicts like myself did.
Throughout the last decade as social media has progressed into the homes of nearly 2 billion people around the world many lasting relationships have been formed, friendships have bonded and, wait for it, personal social interaction has seemingly declined. What is the point in meeting a friend face to face when we can chat with them all night long if we choose to and we never have to leave the comfort of our own home?
Has social media reduced our social skills? What's the point in getting dressed up for a dinner engagement when we can sit in the comfort of our living room wearing sweats and t-shirts and host group events online? Think about it for a moment. Do you remember the last time you actually picked up a telephone and called a friend to inquire about their day? How often do you pry yourself away from the glare of your laptop screen to take a walk or go to a social gathering? Social media has allowed all of us to interact solely through chat rooms, text messaging and posts made to Facebook, Twitter and other social media meeting spots. Meeting friends face to face has been declining rapidly over the last 5 years. After all, why do we need to leave the house when we can get all the news and information necessary with the click of the mouse? Instead of being 100% real with others, we hide behind our phones and laptop screens with typing overtaking talking. We post hundreds of selfies to show others how great we look, how adorable our children or pets are, or how amazing our backyard pool and barbecue pit is. Our pictures are liked, our posts commented on or re-tweeted and yet, we have lost that true essence of communication that can only be made with face to face interaction.
Friendships have become less intimate that they have ever been. When we meet face to face we can see body language and facial expressions. We can feel the way someone feels by the tone of their voice yet when we communicate only through social media outlets, those important characteristics of a conversation are non-existent. While it may be easier to type something to a friend than it may be to say it to their face, what we are becoming is akin to a race of anti-realistic, non-emotional and un-caring people altogether. Robots. That is what the human race is declining to. We are teaching our children that physical social lives are mundane and pointless. We also teach them that solving problems is best done online rather than in person.
How many of us have Facebook friends in relationships and we watch the daily arguments via our news feed that should most likely be resolved behind closed doors. I know I have some friends who will post about how awful their girlfriend/boyfriend may be, and then suddenly there is a string of 100 comments between the two cussing one another out as well as random comments from others being rude about one or the other. Within a couple hours, the same couple is posting of their undying love for the other. I haven't had to watch television in more than a year now thanks to the drama that unfolds on my Facebook feed daily. I often have to wonder why these people, who are obviously under the same roof, are shouting at one another via Facebook posts instead of resolving the issue face to face.
Communicating via the internet makes difficult conversations seem much easier than if you had to speak face to face. When confronting issues that are uncomfortable you can easily dismiss them by not responding to questions or accusations. Even when you say something that you know would hurt someone if it was said to their face, you don't have to acknowledge that when typing it to them. Walking away from someone standing in front of you is often a hard thing to do when you know they're hurt, but failing to respond to their painful messages on Facebook makes many feel as if they have done no harm with the words they have typed to the person. All too often when using social media, we fail to see the damage done by the choice of words we use. Words can be easily misconstrued to mean things we never meant at all because those we are posting to cannot see our facial gestures or our body language when we say them. A simple phrase like "Hey, what's up?" can be translated to "Would you like to go out?" or even "What's your problem?" depending on who you send it to. Words, all too often, lose their value through social media.
Social media has a way of breaking down our personal communication skills. When faced with a conversation in public with someone, how many of you have said to someone "Look me up on Facebook" or "You can text me anytime!" In other words, how many of you have escaped a realistic conversation with someone standing right in front of you by asking them to only speak to you via social media? This happens all the time. I know that I personally have met with people and within just a few short minutes I hear them asking me to message them on Facebook. I am guilty of the same thing myself.
I spend nearly 75% of each day online. Out of necessity to utilize the internet for work, I have to be online every single day of the week. I write for websites and social media blogs therefore keeping up to date with the world around me is extremely important. I also use social media to keep track of friends that I haven't seen in many years. Friends that I drifted apart from once High School was over many years ago. The odd thing about that is many of the people I stay in touch with from my school days live less than 10 minutes away from me, yet I have not physically seen them in many years. Social media has become a way of life. It's become a form of communication without having to get dressed up for a night out, without having to spend money on gas to drive somewhere to meet, and without having to find myself in a conversation or situation that I would rather run away from. Social media has, in a sense, made socializing unnecessary in the real world.
I realized on my last birthday just how prevalent social media was in our lives today. After receiving 100 birthday wishes posted to my Facebook wall within an hour, as well as more than 200 private messages to wish me a Happy Birthday I was feeling great about my special day. Great that is until I realized not one friend personally picked up a telephone and called me. Not one friend invited me out for birthday celebrations as in previous years. Not one friend stopped by my house to say hello. For many, and I am sure I am not alone in this, social media communication has created a lonely atmosphere. Sure it's great to say hello or have a late night chat online with a friend, but that physical connection to the world still needs to be present, and for many, due to social media, there is no physical connection at all.
While social media may be beneficial to those who would be too timid to strike up a conversation in public or too reserved to say what they feel to someone in person, it can also be detrimental to people as well. Bullying and social harassment has become prevalent in society today. Many children and teens have committed suicide due to online bullying. This is a horrific problem in society today and one that should be dealt with urgently. Children who are bullied online are three times more likely to commit suicide than children who are not bullied online. Today, it is estimated that 95% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 are using some form of social media. Many people seemingly have no compassion for others when they are posting online. People are very brazen when they can hide behind their keyboard and monitor and not have to deal with the pain they have brought upon someone else through their harsh words in a comment. Compassion for others is out the window all too often when people begin bashing others via Facebook or Twitter. People need to understand that their words hurt even when they may not mean them to sound quite so harsh. The person receiving the hate filled comments may not be able to handle the criticism that is being thrown their way with such terrible words posted publicly for all to see. Social media has become a hate filled outlet for those who bully others. Social isolation, in my opinion, should be mandatory for those who will harm others with their words.
While many aspects of social media are harmful there are also positive communication skills that can be achieved through social media. For many people speaking to someone face to face is challenging and often stressful. Being able to open up via outlets like Facebook assist with guiding these people into physical meetings offline. Once the ice has been broken so to speak by holding a conversation online, it can make it much easier to meet in person and continue the conversation. Social networking can help you meet people who think the same way you think, enjoy the same sports or outdoor activities, or read the same type of literature. It can form bonds that we may have never known without being prompted by social media. Meeting new people can be an exciting venture, but moving forward to a physical meeting can create new possibilities in life. New romance, friendships and even meeting distant relatives that we never would have had a chance to meet prior to the invention of social media are suddenly possible with a quick online search and a brief meeting via Facebook.
So now I will ask you, my readers. Do you think social media is harming personal communication or has it created an avenue to expand and enrich our social media skills and make them better than they were prior to the advancements of the internet connections we have today?