A quick glance around the Information Commons on a weeknight is all it takes to see how much technology has changed our lives. Instead of studying in a library surrounded by books, Loyola students gather in a giant glass building full of the latest technology to do homework. Even while trying to study, it’s very unlikely that a college student would be completely disconnected from technology. Whether it’s chatting with friends on Facebook, posting updates on Twitter or Instagramming artsy pictures of a Rambler Room dinner, it’s rare for any of us to have a moment when we’re completely disconnected from social media. For this reason, the Phoenix Editorial Board believes that college students should do their best to moderate the time they devote to various social networking platforms, for their own personal well-being.
There’s no doubt that this spread of cyber developement has made life easier for college students in many ways. Skype and FaceTime have made it relatively simple for students to stay in touch with their friends and family back home. With text messaging, Facebook chat, Twitter direct messaging and Gchat, there’s no excuse for not letting Mom know you’re alive.
While all of this technology can be good for staying in touch, studies have shown that social media might actually be making us more isolated.
A May 2012 article in The Atlantic titled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” cites statistics showing approximately 20 percent of Americans, or around 60 million people, are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness. Some researchers that part of this new widespread loneliness is the result of social media overuse. An Australian study done by Tracci Ryan and Sophia Xenas in 2011 on Facebook use found “one of the most noteworthy findings was the tendency for neurotic and lonely individuals to spend greater amounts of time on Facebook per day than non-lonely individuals.”
Does this mean that only neurotic and lonely people spend more time on Facebook? Not necessarily. Most research has found that the real effects of social media might vary depending on how a person uses it.
Another study conducted at Carnagie Mellon University found two different ways people use Facebook: either as direct sharers or passive consumers. Direct sharers are people who like others’ statuses, write on friends’ walls and send messages. Moira Burke, one of the lead scientists of the experiment, defined passive consumers as people who “clicked on news feed stories, read friends’ status updates, and browsed photos.”
The study found that those who used Facebook as “direct sharers” tended to have higher scores of general well-being.
While social media can be fine in small doses, the danger comes when we start replacing real-life interactions with virtual ones.
“The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are. The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are,” wrote John Cacciopo, author of Loneliness, a book discussing the power of social context on an individual’s perceptions, behavior and physiology.
The Phoenix Editorial Board agrees that college students may be relying too heavily on social networking sites as a source of social comfort. We believe there should be more of an effort toward establishing and maintaining real-life relationships, that is, not via the Internet. Many aspects of a healthy relationship are lost in translation by means of cyber conversation. For example, in face-to-face interactions, a person is held to a much higher standard of interactive conduct — when communicating over Facebook chat or Gchat, it can be easy to take for granted the thoughts, feelings and emotional reactions that can only be communicated when one is actually with another person. According to media theorist, Douglas Rushkoff’s book, Program or be Programmed, 55 percent of a conversation relies on body movements, all of which are lost through our communication on the Internet.
To combat our addiction to social networking and for our own mental health, the Phoenix Editorial Board suggests, perhaps, for every hour spent on the Internet, students spend five minutes having a conversation with your parents. Or, for every tweet you publish, read two pages of a book. Strategies like these can help stem the overwhelming temptation to become a social networking addict.
As with any change, there are good and bad things that come as consequences of social media. The Phoenix Editorial Board thinks that, like dessert or alcohol, social media is best consumed in moderation as a supplement (and not a replacement) for real-life interactions.