Social Media: Its Detrimental Effects on Interpersonal Communication

By Tabitha R Harris, Opinion Writer

Good things often come with downsides. Take something as simple as driving a car. While they are tremendously helpful in reaching one’s destination, cars can also be rather dangerous if not handled properly. Although driving comes with its risks, cars were not designed to kill and maim.

Much the same can be said for social media. The many benefits of this relatively new mode of communication have been touted far and wide. However, I would like to focus on its disadvantages.

I am aware that these also have been loudly proclaimed by those who stand against any form of social media so I invite you to set aside any preconceived notions and simply read with an open mind. I believe that social media has had and continues to have an increasingly detrimental effect on interpersonal communication.

By interpersonal communication, I mean real, meaningful, genuine interaction between individuals. Before delving into specifics, let’s make this personal. How many times have you, in your daily life, stared at the blank screen of your smartphone simply because you wanted to avoid making eye contact with someone passing by? Perhaps the screen wasn’t blank, perhaps you were surfing Facebook or Instagram for the millionth time knowing that nothing new had been posted in the past 10 minutes.

Still, your goal was the same; to avoid “awkwardly” looking at fellow human beings. How sad! Your phone became a crutch, a way to avoid your own embarrassment when you could instead flash someone a smile and brighten their day or merely enjoy the beauty of the creation around you.

Consider texting. Texting lacks nearly everything that makes a conversation, namely tone, emotion, facial expressions, body language, and eye contact. While emojis are designed to help with many of these conversational norms, inserting the wrong emoji can lead to an altered message with undesirable results. How often have you read a text message from a friend and stared at it in bewilderment wondering what the period at the end of the sentence meant?

Were they angry, sad, or merely using good grammar? As a result, you then opted to leave out a period in your own message, deciding that they were too menacing. The confusion could have been avoided if you and your friend were looking at one another while speaking.

Body language and tone would have indicated mood and meaning.

Not only is texting to be blamed for much of this poor communication, or lack thereof, but Facebook and Instagram are also at fault – though in different ways. While Instagram is not a method of communication per se, it is a feature based entirely on perception. I have seen photos of individuals on Instagram and have been surprised by the differences upon meeting them in person.

Instagram is not an accurate reflection of who a person is. One posts flattering pictures of oneself, adds filters to heighten the illusion of perfection and leaves the images for the world to see. The result is dissatisfaction, envy, and in some cases, a gross misrepresentation of an individual’s true identity. Trust me, the filter-perfected individual does not look the same in everyday lighting.

Facebook inevitably produces a distorted view of others’ lives and even of our own lives. We wish to project a slanted view of our lives, one that we believe will appeal to on-lookers or that will simply fit in with the contemporary trends.

David Holmes, a psychologist, and researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University in England, confesses that with Facebook, “we don’t really live experiences, we live them to report them…we’re editing ourselves rather than actually being ourselves.”

Instead of enjoying the moment and savoring time spent with family and friends, we rush to position everyone for a selfie and then post it so others can see what a wonderful time we’re having. The desire to share our experiences with any and everyone strips moments of their beauty and genuineness.

The world does not need to know that I tried my hand at making chicken parmesan but, unfortunately, burned the meat in the process. Such an anecdote is something you share with your friends… in person. Sharing it online rids the incident of its relevance for those to whom it would actually matter.

Instead of seeking to get to know someone, hearing about their hopes and dreams, and discovering who they are as an individual, we are content with simply liking a photo they posted of their cute dog or the latest concert they’ve attended.

Social media has sadly resulted in a shallow, superficial culture and, as Alena Hall astutely points out in a Huffington Post article, “the death of an actual civilized conversation.”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 27th print edition.

Contact Tabitha at

tabitha.harris@student.shu.edu

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