In a day and age, where we can contact our friends and family while never leaving our computer screen, we may feel that we are being more sociable than ever. We can organise an event, virtual or not, and invite thousands of people, within a matter of minutes. And

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Source: Steve Garfield on Flickr

Source: Steve Garfield on Flickr

In a day and age, where we can contact our friends and family while never leaving our computer screen, we may feel that we are being more sociable than ever. We can organise an event, virtual or not, and invite thousands of people, within a matter of minutes. And play a game of chess with a stranger on a far continent, via a handheld device. We can talk face to face in a video call, or give the world a news update by sharing a photo in seconds.

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Blogger, Tumblr, Farmville, Xbox Live, Skype, eBay, Game Center… the list trails on. Are our elders ashamed by what the developed world is coming to, when not sending a christmas card is acceptable if you leave a short Facebook wall message? This is what our lives have become. It isn’t going to change any time soon, and much of the population are on-board. So are we in turn ruining our social lives? Are we losing contacts, rather than making them?

It is immediately clear: Facebook changes us. A study, taken by research centre Pew Internet found that regular Facebook users are more trusting than others. They also confirmed that the networking giant revives what they call “dormant” relationships. [1]

A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% more likely than other internet users and more than three times as likely as non-internet users to feel that most people can be trusted.

Oxytocin. Wikipedia

Oxytocin. Wikipedia

So are we actually improving contacts, relationships, and the way we socially interact? Even though connecting this way can revive relationships, we still aren’t standing up to do so. We are typing, clicking, while staring intently at a screen. These friends we make and the trust we build differs from how we interact when speaking face-to-face in the outside world.

Indeed our brains actually fire differently. A link between Oxytocin, the chemical which is recognised to trigger trust and empathy, and social media is evident from research into the way technology affects our brains.[2] Oxytocin was first discovered to be responsible for the bond between mother and child, the strong, loving inseparable bond which may only be expected to be triggered by a relationship within a family, yet research shows us that it’s production is being triggered by social networking. By increasing levels of Oxytocin, changes to the way we interact with others through means of social media, on balance with real life, will likely become ever more evident in our daily lives.

Yet another study, this time from York University in Canada, revealed that regular Facebook users are insecure, and narcissistic[3]. This is bound to offend you, however it really isn’t anything to worry about. What it suggests is that people who use Facebook, are different to those who use a network such as Twitter as their prime way of interacting online. Facebook and Twitter themselves are very different things, and this is reflected in their usage. When I write articles, I notice how many times, and on what networks it has been shared. If I post a thought-provoking, debatable post, I will likely get one or two Facebook likes, as opposed to many more Tweets. If I post an Infographic, Facebook likes shoot up. This tell us that users on Facebook want light digestible entertainment, as opposed to Twitter users, who may want to hear the day’s news, or get overloaded with conflicting opinion. If I said that users of Facebook weren’t intelligent, I would be very wrong; many of us use both Twitter and Facebook. Thus it is not who we are, but what we are looking for at that particular time that defines the platform they choose.

Valve's Steam gaming community leads the way in PC and Mac Online Gaming. Source: Mattgarber on Flickr

Valve’s Steam gaming community leads the way in PC and Mac Online Gaming. Source: Mattgarber on Flickr

In recent times, gaming has become a new way to “unsocially interact”. Gaming online is not a way of socialising; users can speak to each other through their console, but often are so engaged in the game itself, conversations rarely evolve beyond “He’s behind you”. Another take on social gaming may be the hugely popular FarmVille, which originated on Facebook. Here players buy fruit and veg to grow and sell, sometimes using real money and is found to attract a vast following. This game is huge, profitable, yet just as unsocial. Despite the average player of FarmVille being a 43-year-old woman, video games are undisputedly focussed at kids. Shockingly, 9% of young people in the US are said to be clinically addicted to video games, many online, it has been revealed.[4] The lack of social life this has been seen to cause can seriously hamper a child’s ability to live and work in the outer world.

In fact, children are more influenced by technology and social media than any of us. They are impressionable, and their lives are panned out, not just by the way they are nurtured, but often by what they do in their spare time. Spending too much time using technology and the internet has been noticed to have a detrimental affect on attention span and academic performance in children. Furthermore, by becoming accustomed to TV, young children learn to read slower.[5] While Facebook does state that under-13′s are not permitted on the site, it is known not to enforce this, with a report issued this week confirming that 7.5 million pre-teens are present on the site, 5 million of which, under 10.[6] The Boston Globe issued these statistics, which also prove that a vast majority of parents would not disapprove of their child joining a social network, even if it defies the age limit.

Source: Boston Globe

Source: Boston Globe

In many cases, however, Social Media, and technology as a whole changes the way in which we go about our lives, as opposed to changing us as a person. In the past, if I wanted to have a short conversation with someone I would give them a phone call. Now, I will initiate a Skype video chat. If I wanted to send a birthday card, I would walk down to my local newsagent, choose an appropriate one, and send it through a post box. Today, I will visit a website, such as ‘Moonpig‘, and design and send a card from home. We aren’t changing what we do, but how we do it. This does not affect our social life in any way. It doesn’t even enhance it.

The physical aspect of Technology could be seen as just as damaging to how social we are. By texting under a table at a restaurant, by updating Twitter whilst in a meeting, it is obvious people are coming close to alienating themselves, thanks to this ‘addiction’ to the web. It is apparent in every day life: Technology is making us rude, as it distracts us from our friends.

To conclude, whilst Facebook and Twitter may reflect us as a person, whilst they do help us engage in some extra social activity, they aren’t too much of a problem for our social lives, unless they are over-used. It is the social gaming, the things which drag people away from their friends to participate in, which affect us. All in all, these are not helpful, will never help you, and will never improve your social life, even if the game is dubbed ‘creative’ and ‘imaginative’ which are the usual excuses. Social Media is making us less social, yet if we use it in moderation, use it to enhance the way we consume information, there really is nothing worrying about it at all.

Do you find yourself drifing away from people, by overusing social media, or does it enhance your social interaction? Leave a comment and start a discussion – if you’re not too busy harvesting your farm.

References:

[1] PewInternet.org
[2] fastcompany.com
[3] yorku.ca
[4] diyfather.com
[5] aboutourkids.org
[6] bostonglobe.com
Featured Image Source: Jaymi Heimbuch on Flickr