During our recent weekly “Debate Club for Nurds” session at Bravo Romeo HQ we discussed the subject of whether social media is making us more anti-social. The subject divided our group and a fierce debate ensued. In this blogpost, we’ll examine the arguments from both sides and we invite you to join our debate in the comments section.
In the beginning..
Whenever a new technology emerges that fundamentally changes the way we live, it generates debate over the nature of that change and whether it’s “good” or “bad.” In the 1800s, when a monumental communication revolution was taking place — the advent of the telephone – there were privacy fears, worries that people would listen to the phone conversations and face-to-face communication would be lost. Complaints abounded about unwanted calls and the annoyance of interruptions plagued even its inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, who refused to have a phone installed in his workroom. The phone was thought of as so intrusive that in 1890 Mark Twain wrote a Christmas card wishing all people rest and peace, except for the inventor of the telephone. And it is no different for technology that affects our communication today. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, and Twitter that have revolutionized the way human beings source information, communicate and interact with one another. In this blog we’ll be discussing the positive effects in terms of empowering and connecting people whilst conversely examining how they can be a platform for negative, and sometimes destructive, behavior.
What do we mean by “anti-social”?
Before we delve into the debate at hand, let’s begin by defining anti-social. Anti-social: not sociable; not wanting the company of others. Therefore, the affirmative camp in this debate argued, by very definition anti-social is a behavioral trait, rather than one caused by technology. On the other hand, does too much screen time lead to more and more of this anti-social behavior presenting itself in our society? After all human interaction is in our nature, it’s been part of the way we form relationships, build trust and for years has been our main channel of communication.
Enter social media. Now face-to-face interaction is not a must. You can do business, make friends, form relationships with people from all over the world and maintain them for years, without ever having met. However spending all this time texting, commenting and liking or sharing photos makes us feel that it’s much easier and faster to communicate with our friends online, rather than invite them over for a gathering, for instance. This in turn keeps us addicted to the newsfeed… and so the cycles continues.
While technology has undoubtedly made communication easier and given us a wider reach, there are concerns that excessive use of technology can be addictive. People crave validation and attention via their social posts, more so than they do via interactions with humans in real life. This addiction is reflected through consumer behavior with 27% of consumers admitting to checking their social networks as soon as they wake up, and 51% continuing to log in periodically throughout the day.
However it’s when addiction turns from a solitary indulgence into a straight up preference over human interaction that the debate really comes into its own. It’s hard not to be concerned when you see a group of people sitting together, each staring in his or her own smartphone constantly scrolling through their accounts. We’ve all seen it. Let’s be honest, we’ve all done it.
But just as with our earlier point around the advent of the telephone, this is not new. People have always found ways to communicate without human interaction, be it through newspapers, radio, even literature.
So, is social media to blame?
While there are convincing arguments for and against (and believe me we had a great time hashing it out together in the office!) our conclusion is no.
Social media has opened up a world of connectivity and conversation. People can keep in touch with others from all around the world, start discussions with groups they would never have met in real life, follow hashtags to surface different perspectives on the same issue. It helps alleviate the tyranny of distance, in some ways, and has accelerated global and local communication at speeds unattainable in the past. Since communication is the backbone of social interaction, we think it’s therefore wrong to say, out and out, that social media is making us anti-social. What do you think?