Tanner Early, Guest Writer
Information is at our fingertips, connecting with that new friend in class is only a friend request away. Social media was sold on the promise of better connecting people with immediate messaging and global online relationships. In reality it is related with feelings of social isolation and allows for new ways of avoiding in-person relationships.
While innovations such as instant messaging allow us the convenience of sending immediate content and receiving timely responses, it is that distance which can breed self centered actions such as canceling plans for no serious reason or worse, ghosting someone. There is a new convenience in not having to face a person or even tell them on a call that you’ve changed your mind or are simply not interested. With no initial in-person interaction to humanize someone, ghosting them before a date is easy and thoughtless. Broadly put, social commitments are lacking commitment in the age of social media.
Psychology Today cited a 2017 study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that found that heavy use of social media increases feelings of social isolation. Participants in the study responded about how frequently they used any of the top social media platforms. The findings were that participants using social media 58 or more times per week were three times as likely to experience perceived social isolation. The one flaw in the study is the usual “correlation is not causation” obstacle in analyzing data. It simply can’t be entirely clear whether social media use or perceived social isolation occurred first.
It’s equally possible that a person with pre-existing social isolation turned to social media as someone using social media developing perceived social isolation because of it. Whether or not the social media caused isolation or exacerbated existing isolation in people, the study does support one solid conclusion. Social media did not ameliorate or improve the experience of perceived social isolation for participants. Even more, social media use only entrenched feelings of social isolation in people.
For those still skeptical of the relationship between social media and social isolation, Psychology Today gave specific examples of how social media trends can increase perceived social isolation. The sum of these examples are as follows:
- Social media time replaces time spent in real world interaction.
- Feelings of exclusion may occur when someone sees photos of friends enjoying something that they are not included in.
- Because of the selective nature of social media posts and profile building, users may present a false representation of their life. A person may feel envious of others when being inundated by posts of how great someone else’s life is going, whether completely accurate or not.
The importance of this is to dispel the naive idea that simply because social media allows for more convenience in communication, it must be bringing people together. This line of reasoning holds strong weight in society’s collective consciousness. When studied, however, social media only magnifies perceived social isolation. Instead of immediately requesting that friend from class online, consider initiating a personal conversation with them. Get to really know them.