The digital world has undoubtedly provided the 21st Century with some fascinating case studies to show the positive effects of the medium and, in particular, social media. Whilst many theorists claim that the world is getting smaller due to globalisation, some see this hyper-connectivity as a way of masking the polarising truth: the more our means of connecting with other people improves, the more anti-social we become in real life.
Over the past 10 weeks I have been blogging about digital communications strategies including mobile and proximity marketing, data mining, seamless branding and digital activism but one topic stood out for me in particular concerning the interactivity that digital communications brings about and if it really is as positive as it appears. After researching the topic area, it was clear that “one simple idea can become so expansive within the realms of cyberspace” only to “reemerge in the real world as a far more powerful, far more emotive notion that it ever could have been” (Martin, P. 2011). The hybridisation between reality and cyberspace was creating a world between two worlds where content could be shared and we could exist, even after death at times, as an existential being.
However, recent studies have shown that there is now a serious downside to the self-congratulating infatuation we have with ourselves on our Facebook profiles. A recent study into the effects of the social media giant on people found that “Facebook users have higher levels of total narcissism, exhibitionism and leadership than Facebook non-users” and that “Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting and superficial behaviour,” (2011). This is not a healthy mindset to occupying and the use, or perhaps overuse, of social media is exacerbating the problem.
More recent research has also shown that children are spending more time on the computer (nearly two hours in total every day) than they do exercising and this number is set to rise even further as time goes on (Thomas, L., 2011).
But it is, however, important to remember that the technology itself is void of intrinsic moral value and is, in my opinion, ‘social’ media being used for relatively ‘anti-social’ purposes (Tudge, R., 2011); the technology is in place and it is down to us, the users, to ensure that it is used in a mindful and intelligent manner.
Baroness Susan Greenfield, Professor of Neuroscience at Oxford University, believes that physical interactions with people from a young age is the only way to learn how best to act in social situations. For example, skills such as looking someone in the eye, body language and also register and tonality are all important social techniques which can only be taught through physical interactions with other humans. Greenfield states that “none of these are available on Facebook…you’re not learning these very important skills,” .
The quote below is Susan Greenfield’s example of the “existential crisis” that the advent of social media has created:
I just wonder with Twitter, for example, whether that’s an example of people in an existential crisis because who really cares about what you had for breakfast or what socks you’re putting on? And yet, in certain cases, people will do this solipsistic read-out of everything they’re doing and thinking and that sort of reminds me of a small child “Look at me, I’m putting on one sock. Look at me I’m putting on another sock. Look at me Mummy because, if you don’t look at me, how do I know I’ll exist? And I think that therefore, notions of identity might get less robust than they are now.
These “notions of identity” that Greenfield addresses have been contradicted in one study from Cornell University which, as suggested by Moira Burke, showed how “looking at your own profile is self-affirming, so when you’re under stress, you’re better able to manage that stress,”.
However, one reason why this may be so is because we only publish items on our Facebook profiles which we feel represent ourselves in a good light, therefore, looking at our profiles and at the seemingly ‘enhanced’ version of our own being is surely bound to make someone feel more hopeful about themselves. Andrew Keen supports this idea by stating that Facebook “is a narcissistic product that devaluates the notion of friendship” .
A more worrying question that is proposed from the escalating use of social media is “not so much what can we do with the web, but rather what will it do to us” as Professor Greenfield puts it (2009). Keen summarises Greenfield’s thoughts on the effect social media is having on children’s brains as they are developing by stating that “electronic media, especially social networking sites, are replacing children’s deep cognitive skills with short-term sensory ones, thereby trivialising their notion of real friendship and community” (2009).
In previous blog posts, I have covered the recent protests in Egypt to overthrow the longstanding President Hosni Mubarack from power which used Facebook as a key weapon on connecting people from all over the world to empower them on their crusade. Furthermore, the documentary film ‘Life in a Day’ which used video clips sent in from YouTube users created a wonderfully artistic and beautiful vision of the world both in a visual sense and in the philosophical issues of collectivism which underpinned the entire process of the movie. These are just two examples of the beauty arising from social networks such as Facebook and YouTube which devalue the previous notions that they stimulate anti-social behaviour.
Facebook would not exist if it wasn’t for the 600 million people using it’s network everyday. It is merely a shell for users to scrawl messages on and communicate with others who share the same network. It can be used for negative purposes but, as the format has no moral sense of what is good or bad, it is only the users who are able to make that change. Online social networks are a testament to the power of people.
Conger, C., 2010. Is online social networking good or bad? Discovery News. Available from: http://news.discovery.com/tech/is-online-social-networking-good-or-bad.html [Accessed 12th April 2011]
Jacobs, T., 22 March 2011. Facebook Linked to Narcissism? Alternet. Available from: http://www.alternet.org/media/150339/facebook_linked_to_narcissism [Accessed 1st April 2011]
Keane, M., 2009. Q&A: Andrew Keen on the death of Facebook and the future of the web. Econsultancy. Available from: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/3915-qa-andrew-keen [Accessed 25th April 2011]
On the road with a brain scientist, 2011. March 25th 2011. 2330 hrs.
Thomas, L., 1 February 2011. Screen addicts: Children spend more time in front of a computer or television every day than they spend exercising. Available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1352361/Children-spend-time-computers-TV-exercising-week.html [Accessed 1st April 2011]
Toma, C.L., 2010. Affirming the self through online profiles: beneficial effects of social networking sites. New York: USA. Available from: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1753326.1753588 [Accessed 12th April 2011]
Tudge, R., 25 April 2011. Social Media, Anti-Social Ends. New Internationalist Bog. Available from: http://www.newint.org/blog/books/2011/04/25/weekly-no-nonsense-guide-global-surveillance/ [Accessed 25th April 2011]
Whitney, L., 2007. Nielsen: Kids’ online time leaps dramatically. Cnet. Available from: http://news.cnet.com/8301-10797_3-10281882-235.html [Accessed 2nd April 2011]