Social media? You can keep it. I’ll take being social.

Father forgive me for I am about to rant.

Social media has ruined social scenes. The organic, fluid, dynamic nature of socializing has been replaced with transactional interactions over a sleek UI.

Don’t feel like going out tonight? That’s okay, you can just stalk everyone else’s Snapchat to see what happened and talk about it the next morning like you were there. Oh, and no need to catch up over coffee or a beer these days, you can always just see what people are doing with their lives on Facebook. If you are REALLY close to them, text them. The best part is, you can do it all from the comfort of your own home, without ever actually seeing another human being.

That wouldn’t fly as recently as ten years ago. You would be marooned on an island of loneliness as your life passed you by. To be honest, I wish it didn’t fly now.

To be part of what’s happening, make new friends, connect with old friends, or be on the dating scene you had to actually show up. People would meet in public places to talk about what to do then go do it, or plan on a place to meet ahead of time and if you miss it you miss out. The way social interaction used to work is why we have the saying, “be there or be square”. Sure, you could catch up over the phone, but unlike social media’s ability to be ever-present in each other’s lives through snapping, chatting, pinning, insta-ing, and all the other cheesy catch-phrases that these companies invent, you used to actually have to be there to experience what life has to offer. It was genuine, and real, and so much more fun!

The prevalence of social media and proliferation of mobile communication technology has all but killed the social “scene”. It is far too easy for people to flake out and flit around from event to event. They can get intel ahead of time on the “happenings” of the night, change plans on a dime, and pick and choose from a plethora of events being funneled into them from various contacts or promoted to them by conglomerates that curate their newsfeed. Think about why this sucks so much. Someone can Yelp a restaurant to take their date they met on Tinder, check BandsInTown for a place to catch a show, then watch their friends Snapchat feeds to see which house party to (probably not) go to, before Ubering home in a cab and posting it all on Facebook. Sounds like the future to you? Sounds like a dystopian future to me.

Whatever happened to word-of-mouth? Like, actual words, coming out of someone’s mouth. The last time you were invited to a big event was it in person, over text, or on a Facebook event page? The last time you went out to eat did you call a friend for a recommendation or ask Google? Do you get into healthy debates with friends or Wiki the answer the second you disagree on something? Do you ask what your friends are listening to or does Spotify pick your daily and weekly routines for you? You get the drift.

Let’s take the dating scene for example – how many of you have experienced your crush come to you in person and bashfully, adorably ask if they can take you out on a date? How many of you have been the one approaching that special someone with a whole lot of courage and a secret prayer in your heart? I sincerely hope the answer is all of you because I want that for you, but I am sure that many people reading this will look back on some of their first dates and realize they got there through an app or a text message.

“What’s so wrong with that? Tinder saved my Freshman year! You are so outdated!”

Maybe I am, but I believe that nothing in this life is more important for the social creatures that we are than being in each others presence for those significant moments in our lives. No one should experience these things alone with a screen. They are the types of experiences that build character, memories, and bonds. I silently despair for generations that will not experience these small but profound moments of tenderness and vulnerability that personal interactions bring to bear and technology eliminates.

Due to these new norms, it seems to me that many people are afraid to be genuine with each other. I see it every day on city streets, on the bus, or even in the classroom. I am sure I am not the only one who has observed people with the want to look into another person’s eyes and say something daring but without the courage to do so. I believe it has fundamentally changed social behavioral norms to the point where interaction in the flesh is more taboo than interacting via the web. We have been conditioned to be apprehensive and skittish about things like commenting on an actual conversation we overhear, striking up conversations with strangers, or cracking a joke to someone you’ve just met. Yet behind the veil of social media personas people will bare their very souls to millions of lurkers whom they will never meet. Why is this? Are we trading the ability of mass communication for the capability of genuine communication?

Massive grassroots happenings like the flower child and hippie movement of the 60’s, disco in the 70’s (well, maybe not ALL things should come back) or the alternative, grunge and underground metal scenes of the 90’s may not be achievable with the advent of social media. These scenes only existed because people showed up, got involved, and connected on a level that transcended the surficial interactions we suffer on a daily basis. What’s more, the ever-watchful eye of big brother is constantly being waved around via your camera at every single social event that happens today. Many people engage with things like rallies and concerts through their smartphone’s camera lens more than through their own two eyes. Yes, I am the guy that will throw something at you if you spend the entire concert with Snapchat held up over your head so that everyone behind you gets blinded by your screen while you don’t even attempt to connect with the artist bearing their heart and soul to a crowded room full of strangers. After the third photo/video vanity is the only thing you’re capturing on that screen. We all know where those photos go afterward! Either onto the public ledger of social interactions via Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat so you can say look-at-me or cast deep into the abyss of useless data that is cloud-stored photographs. If you are one of the people that actually goes back and looks at much less cleans our your old photos, you are a unicorn. Good for you, seriously.

I understand many of you would think that this view is pessimistic, and I would agree with that because it is. Perhaps you are comfortable with how things are, or maybe you’re just hitting 21 and the world is blossoming before you at your fingertips as text, chat, and every other app works together to bring your social life to you. But I’d trade every social media platform in existence today, and all of their professed benefits, for a culture that not only seeks to see eye-to-eye, but actually does it too.

 

 

 

8 comments

  1. Thank you for posting this. I have been feeling the same way lately. I feel like I look up whenever I’m on the train or hanging out with my roommates and everyone is staring at their screens. In fact, this morning I was on the train and it was absolutely silent. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s something we can come back from. We are all addicted to social media whether we like it or not.

    I like that you pointed out the dating scene specifically, because I think that’s what got hit the hardest when it came to technology. People always talk about how millennials ruined dating and I kind of agree. Dating apps make me uncomfortable but I have noticed my friends have like five different apps for it. There are definitely success stories that come out of it, but I think it has affected the social scene because people don’t have the guts to go up and talk to a stranger in person anymore. So, I don’t see your post as pessimistic – I think it is hopeful because it suggests that maybe change could happen, and it starts with all of us.

  2. Kyle – I couldn’t agree more with this post. I also miss the days when phones were only used to communicate for necessary things and we were forced to hang out in person if we wanted to be social. I am someone who posts on Snapchat/Instagram stories very occasionally but I like to post now and then because since I have a lot of International friends all over the world, I like them to see what I’m up and get the occasional DM to check in (for example when we had a ton of snow a lot of exchange students from last semester commented on it).
    I like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat because it allows me to keep in touch with friends that I have all over the world. The main reason I created a Facebook was when I went to summer camp in Germany and had no way to keep in touch with the people I met.
    What I don’t like about social media is that it has replaced in person interactions and people value more their “online reputation” than their in-person interactions. I remember talking to a friend freshman year who went out on a night that I didn’t and I asked how it was because it seemed fun on her Snapchat story. Her response was: “Oh my God, no it was sooo boring, that is why I was on Snapchat all the time”. While most people like to record moments on Snapchat to show how fun it is, if you are really having fun, you should be engaged in the present moment and trying to record it for others to see. I have never been on a BC retreat but I heard that most people enjoy them because they encourage people to disconnect their phones for the weekend and really work on the in-person interactions with other group members.
    The way the world is evolving right now, I don’t see our social scene moving back in time but I hope we all make an effort to be more socially present offline.

  3. Good point, and I believe it’s good to be frank about a negative topic than to neglect it. Although I am not a big fan of social interactions based on technology or social media, it has already become a norm, sadly. Yet, I believe there is still quite a bit of hope, given that many people, including myself, are aware of this and consciously try to put their phones down at least at the dinner table or catch-up with friends. I purposely put my phone face down whenever I chat with someone in person, which I find quite useful (and a must-do if you want to be polite).

    The problem is that in-person chat time requires more time and commitment for people to dedicate, which makes the catch-up via social media or mobile devices a lot more convenient than an actual meet up. Not just in social scene, this appears in many aspects of our lives as technology develops: people stop going grocery shopping as they can order it online; people use delivery apps for their dinner instead of cooking with their family; people get their degree online (someone wrote a blog about this); and the list goes on. This all requires less time commitment, and convenience dominates human behavior by adjusting their lifestyle to it. Simple reason is because it’s easy. I believe this social issue also rises from the fundamental problem of convenience offered by technological advancement, and it can only be solved by putting constant efforts to designate what aspect of our lives can be replaced with convenience or not.

  4. Kyle, I think you make great points. At first I wanted to push back about negative comments about apps like Yelp, but then I realized what you were getting at–the bigger picture. The bigger picture here is every app draws people to be more and more attached to their phones and more and more isolated from the social aspects of the real world.
    I like the point you made about musical revolutions. I am currently in a History of Popular Music class learning more about what you are talking about. There have been major musical revolutions that go hand in hand with cultural revolutions, and these cultural revolutions have been largely circled around being in community (i.e. the hippies believed in communal living). It is hard to deny that the course of human history is shifting in a major way due to technology, and it may not be shifting in the right direction.
    I think the most detrimental aspect of the issues you talked about is discourse. I have a younger brother who is 3 years younger than me. That honestly is not that big of an age gap, but the difference between how I interact with others, especially my friends, and how he interacts is amazing. I always find myself asking why he and his friends never pick up the phone to call each other or call family members. I also see a much greater use of social media and social gaming (yes, even more than college kids). The biggest thing I notice is the subject of he and his friends conversations. Don’t get me wrong I love talking about sports, pop culture, etc. but I have had great conversations about politics and other controversial topics with my friends that I can’t even imagine he and his friends having. That concerns me. I believe discourse is fundamental to forming opinions and it is the foundation for defining who we are as people. I believe that this gap I am describing is in part due to the overwhelming exposure his age has had to social media even compared to people my age.

  5. Really interesting post, Kyle. A lot of the time, I feel the same way. I will challenge some of the negative aspects you brought up in one way. Social media and technology allows us to connect and communicate with people in ways that we have never before (due to geographical distances, particularly). At the same time, though, as you bring up, it erodes some of the closest relationships and communications that we have.

    Your post brought two things to mind for me. First is based on research that has been done about excessive picture taking. Scientists have shown that when people take a photo, they’re much more likely to forget the memory of actually being there. Their brains do not prioritize remembering that event (especially over an event without a photo) because it knows it can always reference the actual photo. When I first heard about this, it was really upsetting, considering our technology and social media platforms that encourage CONSTANT photographing.

    Second is an idea discussed in one of my classes this past week—slack-tivism. This term was coined to demonstrate how social media has eroded the genuineness of our altruism and activism. Because it allows us to post so easily, people who really do not support the cause in a substantial way can act like they do. The backside of this argument, of course, is that social media has brought awareness and money to causes that might never have been recognized without the technology.

  6. Hey Kyle, I’m glad you brought this topic up as it is a very important topic to discuss. While you make some good points, I will also push back on some of the things you say. I don’t think for anybody social media is becoming a replacement for actual human interaction. As for lonely people who isolate themselves with social media, I don’t think social media is much to blame. Lonely people will be lonely and social people will be social, regardless of the effects of social media. Let’s take myself for an example (albeit a biased one). I don’t see myself as a social media savvy person. But I also don’t see myself as a very social or outgoing person either, and I probably won’t change based on how active I am on social media. Like I said before social people will be social regardless. This is my view even though we probably can’t prove it.

    I think the reason Yelp as become a replacement for word or mouth recommendation is the fear of bothering other people. If we want to find a good restaurant recommendation we can go to Yelp to find something. The alternative is the reach out to a friend, and some may shy away from that due to fear of bothering them. Using Yelp doesn’t direct disturbs other people but human interaction can.

    To your point of Spotify, my friends always talk about what we have been listening lately so I don’t really see out it has been replacing human interaction there.

    As for the people constantly recording concerts on there phone, this too annoys me. While i don’t think social media has replaced human interaction, it has given people a new way to express their vanity and this is one manifestation of that vanity.

  7. I’ve always been a “glass is right in the middle kind of guy.” I have always been careful to teach about the downsides of social media. At the same time, I think there are immense gains that could not have been made through any other platform. The key is balance and awareness. I definitely think public perception has turned toward a negative of social media right now, but I’m wary of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. I do think we have a tendency to be nostalgic about the “good old days” at bit and forget there was alot of social awkwardness back then too.

  8. I understand the cynicism, I really do. I definitely do feel that social media has delegitimized our daily social interactions to a harmful extent, and that I am guilty like many other people of indulging. I’m not huge on actually posting or hunting for likes, but I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t been in some kind of experience (be it a concert, traveling, etc.) and thought about how it would be cool to share it on social media – and of course, sometimes I do. It is bittersweet to imagine a time where that would be the farthest thing from my mind, and I could just absorb an experience completely in the moment without a thought of my Instagram. It’s funny seeing my dad, who only very recently jumped on the social media bandwagon, talking about snagging a picture for his Facebook feed at Easter brunch. But at least for him I think it’s more a supplement to his social life than a replacement: I know that it has helped him reconnect with people he hasn’t talked to for years. So like Professor Kane said, I think it helps to look at it as a balance of good and bad more than anything else.

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