The problem with online connections

Don’t let yourself be so distracted you miss out on life. | PC: Kimberly Ortiz

Don’t let yourself be so distracted you miss out on life. | PC: Kimberly Ortiz

Facebook is known among young and old alike as a way to reconnect with relationships lost, to find that high school classmate or long-lost relative. It provides a place to share adventures and thoughts, to see what friends and even celebrities are up to, and get a glimpse of what else is going on in the world.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter: these are just a few of the most popular social media platforms on the market today. There’s a swirling black hole of audiences on the Internet wanting to hear your voice, to know your opinion. With such an opportunity for self expression, young people turn online for connection, reveling in the chance to be “genuine” or “real.”

But the glimpse isn’t always real.

The book, “The Defining Decade” by clinical psychologist, Meg Jay, discusses the effects of social media presences on self-esteem and social interaction. “[Facebook] can be just another place, not to be, but to seem […] most twentysomethings know better than to compare their lives to celebrity microblogs, yet they treat Facebook images and posts from their peers as real,” she writes. “Facebook and other networking sites have the power to help people feel more connected and less alone.”

In June, a new Nielsen Company audience report stated that “…adults in the United States devoted about 10 hours and 39 minutes each day to consuming media.” Almost half of the entire day is spent either staring at a cell phone, a tablet, a laptop or another electronic device. Our entire lives are being lived out on screens.

If we spend all our interactions online, what’s left for face-to-face?

When walking around campus, riding in the elevator or just sitting in class, it’s more common to observe fellow students glued to their phones rather than engaging in real life. This lack of participation isn’t limited to classrooms alone; ASB events, clubs and athletic teams are suffering from disinterest and lack of engagement.

In regards to ASB events, online promotion isn’t a bad thing. Videos and polls engage people and produce real feedback. Online communication makes young people more aware of opportunities but can also be overwhelming.

Maile Hoffman, a senior education major, worked on ASB as the social VP during her sophomore year and experienced the highs and lows that come with trying to get college students excited. “You have to have excitement for what you’re doing,” she says.

To combat lack of engagement, Maile was intentional about her face-to-face interactions.

“I would personally go around and tell everyone to come,” she says. “There were those people already interested in attending events but with super shy students, music students or different groups, you have to make the personal connection and invite them out. Personal connections are the best way.”

Social media isn’t just limiting the ability to interact face-to-face. Complete strangers have begun to feel too comfortable with personal information, thanks to the openness of the internet.

It’s more common than not to fall into a predicament of “dating” or “befriending” a person’s social media page before actually getting to know them. It’s interesting how you can spend time on someone’s page and feel so close to them, yet not know a thing about them in person.

Many college students may be able to relate to this generic first-date scenario: boy asks girl out, and proceeds to ask her about her specific home town, family (by name and age) and hobbies (referencing recent events she might’ve participated in), all information he gleaned the night prior from her Instagram and Facebook profiles.

Essentially, social media allows users to “get to know” people without really knowing them.

Are we, perhaps, harnessing our powers with social media for the wrong reason? Is there a way to use social media incorrectly? In the midst of all our social media interactions, have we forgotten how to be social?

Jay, Meg. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now. New York: Twelve, 2012. Print.  

Katie Morrison is a senior studying business administration