Social-media outlets like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have made us forget how to truly communicate with one another. These platforms have enabled people to create simulations of their lives, constructing them into facades that appeal to others. What was once an in-person interaction turns into five minutes spent mulling over how to respond to a text message. What was once a way to maintain connections with people has now become a means of assessing self-worth, filtering reality and, ironically, distancing ourselves from the real people in our lives.
As humans, our main form of interaction has been in-person communication for generations. As researched by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of the book “Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes,” 93 percent of communication is actually nonverbal body language. With the rise of social media in the last few decades, the remaining 7 percent of verbal and written communication has begun to dominate the field and this has diminished our ability to pick up on nonverbal cues when speaking to others.
A survey conducted by online casino game site Yazino found that 11 percent of adults would rather text their friends instead of meeting in person. According to a Pew Research Center survey on social media usage, the percentage of American adults using social media networks shot up from 7 percent to 65 percent in the past ten years. Through these text-heavy interactions, much goes unsaid, leading to miscommunication. Furthermore, the nature of social media emboldens individuals to make racist, homophobic or socially unacceptable statements without considering the consequences associated with their remarks.
In a recent NPR interview, Nancy Jo Sales, author of a new book about social media and sexting titled “American Girls,” discussed how social media has created a cyber environment where young people are pressured into sharing highly sexualized photos. This culture has led to an increase in anxiety, depression and eating disorders in teenage girls, according a study conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2007.
That is not to say that all social media is harmful. Social media has accelerated social change and has made it easier to access news across the globe. The Libyan Revolution utilized YouTube as a critical tool for raising awareness of the problems in their country. Without social media, the social justice spirit of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement may have dwindled. Skype and FaceTime connect relatives across continents and have created a smaller world as a result. When utilized appropriately, social media can create a better world to live in.
But if used incorrectly, social media closes the gap between people around the world at the expense of generating distances between people sitting in the same room. It is much easier to scroll through your phone than to start a conversation, it is much simpler to check your GPS than to ask for directions and it is much less intimidating to “swipe right” than to break the ice.
In a world based on instant gratification, we have become accustomed to conveying everything we have to say in 140 characters or a Snapchat story. But in the end, there is no replacement for the value of face-to-face interaction. So the next time you communicate with someone, put the phone away and truly be present in the shared moment. In a world of efficiency, your undivided attention is invaluable.
Faizah Shareef is a junior majoring in exercise physiology.
Featured image courtesy Pixabay user Pizelkult