Has Social Media Made Us Anti-social?

“Here’s your Kung Pao Chicken and Spicy Beef Stew.” After what seemed to be the longest wait ever , which was also accompanied by hunger and an exhaustion of conversation topics, our food was finally brought to the table.

I reached out for a large piece of beef, only to be interrupted by the 15-year-old sitting across the table. “Hold on! Let me Snapchat this to my friends first. Wait, you know what Snapchat is, right?”

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Yes, I do know what Snapchat is. In fact, I probably knew about it much earlier than you did. I have had the app on my phone right after its launch in 2011 – I just never use it, even though I know it has become the “thing” now. For one thing, I am incredibly awkward with video selfies. Also, what happened to expressing your feelings with beautiful words and perfect sarcasm in complete sentences?

For the rest of the dinner,  I watched the 15-year-old I am somewhat “baby-sitting” and her friends giggle at their phones every ten minutes and conduct conversations in six-second video clips. Besides the urge to teach them some table manners and explain to them it’s rude to check your phone that often during a social setting, I also felt old and left out. At one moment, it occurred to me that I’ve become my mother. All of a sudden, I could relate to her frustration with me on the use of computer and cellphones.

I was in junior high when I got my first computer with Internet access. I got hooked to it right away and quickly started to spent more and more time talking to strangers in chatrooms and stay up at night to play Monopoly online. This made my mother upset- she thought that my good-daughter days were over and with my “Internet addiction” an academic apocalypse was looming on the horizon. Even my graduation from a top university and my smooth career development didn’t stop her concerns. At one point, she said: you used to love family gatherings and go to social dinners with me and your dad. Now you would rather spend all the time at home looking down at your phone. You’ve changed. You’ve become antisocial. ”

Her accusation got me thinking: Can I really be antisocial if I am on social media all the time?  Don’t all those likes under my WeChat pictures count? Do all my followers on Instagram mean nothing? Look at all the people I know on LinkedIn! Then I realized that I am not antisocial, I am just anti-my-mother’s-way-of-social. For her generation, people switch name cards instead of usernames and QR codes. Being social means getting business deals done around the “Lazy Susan”, reuniting with high school classmates every year and being the resourceful matchmaker that introduces your colleague’s son to your old army buddy’s daughter.

The popularity of the Internet and smart phones has fundamentally changed the way how people socialize. In this brave new world, people are no longer confined to the social networks they are born with – the neighbors, classmates and colleagues. We can meet people of chosen similarities base on our own preferences, such as hobby, religion, political views without the geographical limitations. It is easier than ever for us to completely reconstruct our own social networks and the possibilities are infinite. Such change made my parents uncomfortable initially, not only because it was pulling my world and their part, but also because they felt the threat towards their “edge” as the most resourceful few among their crowd – the Internet leveled the playing field for everybody and I can probably find a much better date on OKcupid than relying on her acquaintances.

Just like my frustration with Snapchat isn’t unique, my parents’ frustration with the Internet and smartphones can also be compared with my grandparent’s frustration with TVs. I remember hearing my grandparents complain about disappearing Chinese New Year’s celebration rituals – traditionally, Chinese people celebrate the new year by having a big family dinner on New Year’s Eve and visiting all your neighbors afterwards. When TV became a household necessity, people rush to finish dinner so they can catch the New Year celebration show on national TV. The elderly are often portrayed as the saddest generation as they watch their children and grand children being totally engaged in modern technology, feeling abandoned and alone.

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As we have discussed in class, being social is an innate human quality and our social needs will prevail.  The first social network was not formed by Facebook – it exited when men gathered around in a cave to share the food they hunted thousands of years ago. However, as time goes by, revolutionary technologies will continue to change the way we communicate and socialize, and the aforementioned frustration will remain inevitable as we get taken further away from our known reality. This might also explain why it is harder for older people to adapt to modern technology – the difficulty not only lies in the learning of new gadgets, but also letting go of deeply-rooted, ritualized social practices. Their attachment to such social practices are not only habitual, but also emotional. The grandparents will always look forward to the New Year Eve’s dinner, as that is the one social occasion that ties their entire world together. I will always treasure talking to my good friends by typing on a keyboard, as that’s how I built my selected social network. As for my toddler nephews and nieces, may they live a happy life with whatever technology they will be blessed with.

Douglas Adams has perfectly summarizes our attitude towards change in technology in the below quote:

” I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. “

I hope this will help postpone or decrease that inevitable frustration when it hits me. Until then, maybe it’s time for me to click on the yellow icon again and figure out how to puke rainbows.

10 comments

  1. This was a nice post. I agree with you that using social media can allow one to connect/chat with someone that has similar interests. So OkCupid and Plenty of Fish (POF) surely have their place. Your parents and grandparents like mine, were brought up in an age where today’s technology did not exist. So it would make sense for people to meet in person. I do think that with the advent on social media and people’s over-reliance on it, many are now not developing the interpersonal skills or recognizing social cues. To this end, it is not surprising that some users of OkCupid and POF find it difficult to relate or interact with someone in person. It is also not surprising that people who do meet up in person are constantly checking notifications or status updates while on dates. Thus I will argue that social media serves it purpose of connecting us with others by eliminating barriers such distance, language etc. However, for some people over reliance on social media can affect our ability to “be social” by preventing us from picking up on social cues. Social media can hinder us from developing interpersonal skills.

  2. I enjoyed reading your perspective on how people acclimate to technology and inventions according to the stage in their life when they are introduced. My large takeaway was how the generational gap affects comfort with new things- and I think it’s an interesting approach. I would disagree, though, that it’s 100% correlated to age. My father, for instance, is substantially more comfortable with technology than I am, but I am more comfortable than my mother. This being said, I believe that generation surely effects natural ability – but that interest and genuine curiosity trump that.

    Nice read!

  3. Jennie, this post really resonated with me because I often see technology as a detriment rather than a benefit to our generation. People walk from class to class with their heads buried in their phones and they miss out on the simple sights and conversations that are important in our lives. I will be forever thankful to my mother for limiting my TV and computer time to one hour as a child so that I had time to go out and play with my friends. I plan to do the same thing with my children, regardless of the technology available. You final quote is a good one, but I hope all generations can begin to break away from that mindset in order to recognize both the pros and the cons of new technologies.

  4. I really liked your insights into who builds their social networks in what ways and using what technology. The impact social media has had on family life are definitely real. The age correlation makes sense, to a point, as Amanda notes. I just hope that younger generations will not forget entirely that there are fun, nice ways to connect with others that don’t involve electronic gizmos.
    Social media have changed our culture, and to have a functioning, cohesive culture, people need to be socialized and acculturated into that culture. To me that means that we should try to involve parent and grand-parent generation as much as possible in the technological developments shaping life these days, but the younger generations also need to be aware and respectful of the fact that there is a life outside of social media, and be able and willing to learn to go without whenever the situation calls for it (e.g., New Year’s Eve or other family celebrations). At least that’s how I would try to handle it in my family, but that might even be too idealistic. Nice post, and you last sentence made me laugh. ;)

  5. Hello Jennie, good post! Our generation lives in a era that’s fundamentally different from the old one. I agree that the challenges for elderly people comes from not only the physical level, such as the decreasing learning capability, but also the psychological level like their reliance on deeply-rooted social practices. However, I have to admit that my father who’s turned into his 50s is absolutely an exception. In fact, he’s the loyalest user and the most enthusiastic advocator of a number of latest apps and social media in both my family and his workplace. Keep learning all the time is his persistent belief and everytime he confronts technical problems about a new app, he repeatedly try it until finally figuring it out. Once he fully understand how it works, he frequently use it to strengthen his experience. In this way, he gets chance to positively build up intimacy with the new discovery. Your post makes me think that that may be a good strategy to prevent us from falling behind of this rapidly changing and more tach-savvy world.
    In addition, although social media enables us to interact with our social network in a more novel and convenient way than before as you mentioned, there is at least one flaw remained as far as I’m concerned. When social media gives us the option to freely select friends and social circles online, it constraints us into our comfort zones and limits our vision at the same time. We can be easily bundled with the ones who share more similarities with us and ignore those who’re different from us but may actually have deeper insights. Moreover, the gap between interactions on social media and that in reality may make us suffer more discomfort and frustration when we have to handle those real-time communications in our daily life. Thanks for discussing this interesting topic with us!

  6. “Also, what happened to expressing your feelings with beautiful words and perfect sarcasm in complete sentences?”

    That rhetorical question, in addition to nearly making me spit tea out all over my computer, is a fantastic, Jennie!

    Very thoughtful and well-reasoned post overall. I particularly love the Douglas Adams quote – he is one of my favorite authors.

    This post dovetails pretty nicely with my first week’s blog post about why I don’t use Facebook. I think you’re right on that technology and social media fundamentally change the way we interact with people, but ultimately face-to-face communication is what we want. We want real experiences in the real world. Otherwise why is my favorite bar in Inman Square standing-room-only during every major sports event? Why was it a hundred times more enjoyable to watch last year’s World Cup Final there than in my living room? Because I, like everyone else, want real experiences in the real world.

  7. Jennie, this was a heart-wrenching post as I read it listening to somber instrumental music on my Bose headphones that basically disconnect me from the world. I understand where your grandparents are coming from, my grandfather used to not allow anyone to use their phones during family gatherings. However, in the recent years he has become lenient with this rule. It is fascinatingly ironic that social media and technology can connect and equally disconnect people. I fear for what is to come when people can no longer truly experience each other in the moment. Thank you for this little reminder as we get closer to the holidays!

  8. Really appreciated this blog post since I was just considering deleting my social media today! The anxiety that social media can cause (especially young teens as you described, who derive their self-worth and social status from it) inhibits the real-life interactions that we have with our family. I think it almost goes deeper in that when you’re young, you think you’ll always have your family/parents, so it doesn’t matter if you’re not paying 100% attention to them when you’re checking Instagram at the dinner table. Pretty sad stuff but important to realize. Thanks for the insight!

  9. Jennie your post was incredibly insightful. I am completely guilty of checking my phone multiple times during a meal or social gathering. I think it does sometimes depend on the company I am with. If I’m at a family gathering, I try to check my phone less (futile attempts I must admit), however when I go out to eat with my friends it’s not uncommon for their to be a long silence where everyone is busy texting/ snapchatting someone else. We sometimes do a phone stack, or if someone makes a comment we’ll get embarrassed and put our phones down. However, I do like the idea that the way we are social has changed. Different doesn’t always mean bad. Although, I would like to make more of an effort to be more engaged and I think discussing it, is the first step.

  10. Nice post. I really appreciate that you see the connection with previous generations dislikes of technology as well. We do need to develop better mobile technology ettiquitte though, even though it will likely differ considerably between generations.

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