The Tech Maven
By Kara Woodridge
Social Media: Friend or Foe?
The other day, my friend and I went outfor lunch. I looked down to put mynapkin on my lap and heard her sayingsomething. I didn’t quite hear her, so Iasked her to repeat it. Her reply, “Ohsorry, I was talking to Siri.” If you don’tknow, Siri is the voice of the virtualiPhone assistant. You can ask Siriquestions and “she” will answer usinginformation from the Internet.Apparently, now you can ask Siri toupdate your Facebook status, which iswhat my friend was doing. Was it wrongof me to feel a little annoyed that myfriend was talking to her phone insteadof me? Now, I know that social mediaand all the technology that comes with itis everywhere lately, but I wasn’texpecting Siri to be joining us for lunch!
I have to admit, it
ironic that I—a blogger who uses social mediafor a living—am complaining about “technology these days” like mygrandfather does. But I argue that I’m actually the perfect person tospeak out against what’s wrong with how we use social media—tomake sure what’s wonderful about it remains that way. I have a stakein this endeavor! But first, a little background information.
Connecting the world
One of the first social networks, MySpace, was founded in 2003. In
less than ten years, social media has become part of many people’severyday lives. It’s truly the first tool that connects the entire world.True social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ aremeant for chatting with your friends and sharing photos and news.Sites like Foursquare allow people to “check in” to different placesto let their network know where they are. At the dentist? Picking upsome coffee? Just click a button on your smartphone and yourfriends will know what you’re doing. (My question is, does the worldreally need to know every time you stop to pick up your drycleaning?) There are hundreds of social networking sites:professional, hobby, photo sharing, video sharing, and gaming sites.Not to mention blog sites, like this one. No matter what yourinterest, there’s a social media site that covers it.
Who uses all these websites? There are about 130 million socialmedia users in the United States. That’s more people using socialmedia in this country than the number of people in the country ofJapan!
Facebook users spend an average of more than fifteenhours each month on the site.
That’s about thirty minutes per day.I’m almost certain that thirty minutes is coming out of our time withour friends and families. Either that or we’re stealing time from whenwe probably should be studying or working. The truth is, while thereare some wonderful things about social media, it can often be asource of distraction rather than connection. I also argue that it canbe detrimental to quality journalism. Furthermore, it can actually bedangerous when used improperly.
Are we connected or distracted?
I’ll give one thing to social media: it’s fun, pure and simple. We loveto connect with each other about experiences, laugh at silly videos,and share news. Getting online to chat with a friend is easy. We cansocialize on our own terms when it’s most convenient for us. Butlet’s think about that for a moment. What if a friend needed you at a
time that wasn’t convenient for you? Would you turn them away, notanswer the phone or come to the door, simply because the timingwas wrong? I imagine that some people are so used to connectingonline that they get out of the habit of talking in person. Could socialmedia actually be making us less social?
Another good thing about social media is that keeping in touch withfriends has never been easier. Even people who move away canstay connected to their hometown friends and family by sharingpictures and stories about their lives and enjoying the sameinformation from their friends. Social media also allows people toshare their creativity by posting ideas, art, and music on blogs andpodcasts. Expanding our social networks, either virtually or in reallife, can also be a way to increase our understanding of otherpeople, especially those from backgrounds different than our own.Learning more about others creates respect and tolerance, whichcan grow into compassion and acceptance.
Social media can help people who are shy or have special needslearn how to communicate better. Kyle, who has been diagnosedwith developmental disorders, says that using social media helpedhim ease into having conversations in person. “Two to three yearsago I wasn’t able to talk to people face-to-face. Like, this right now, Iwouldn’t have been able to explain anything. I would have been allshy…” Kyle was introduced to MySpace and Facebook as ateenager, and he says practicing talking with others online helpedhim learn to make friends and have conversations. “It’s basically justthe fact that you don’t have to have a person staring back at youwith what you’re saying,” he explains.
While all of that is good, I contend that connecting online takes timeaway from real-life relationships. And there are facts to prove it. In arecent survey, thirty-nine percent of people said they spent moretime socializing online than in person and twenty percent said theyprefer texting or talking online than meeting face-to-face.
Inanother survey, twenty-four percent said they missed important
moments because they were busy trying to share those momentson their social network.
It seems to me like many of us are missingreal life while we’re sharing it with our virtual life.
The end of journalism?
Many people use social media as a way to get news. Over half of allAmericans have learned about a breaking news story using socialmedia.
News that comes out on social media is often instant andoccurs as the story is unfolding. Protesters in Cairo, Egypt, duringthe Arab Spring in 2011 sent tweets—messages sent over Twitter—that gave real-time, first-person coverage of the revolution. Socialmedia became a very important organizing tool, allowing leaders tobroadcast information to their followers and encouraging others tojoin the protest. At the same time, people all over the world wereable to read about, and see photos of, the uprising as it happened.In this demonstration and in many other cases, people with camerason their cell phones are able to go into places and take photos ofthings that television cameras cannot. The problem with all thisaccess and immediacy is that many people “reporting” using socialmedia aren’t trained journalists, so it’s easy to miss facts and reportinaccurate information. In fact, 49 percent of Americans have heardbreaking news from social media that turned out to be false.
Also,because people are turning away from traditional news sources likenewspapers and television, those sources have experienced amajor decline in recent years. News directors don’t have thebudgets to spend on high-quality reporters who seek to uncoveractual news stories. Some have even said that social media isbringing about the end of real journalism.
Could it even be dangerous?
Thinking about safety risks are probably not on the top of the listwhen people get online to connect, but the truth is, dangers exist.
Using social media while driving is a widespread and dangerousproblem. It contributes to many distractions while driving, such astexting, watching videos, checking social media sites, even playinggames online. In 2011, 1.3 million car crashes involved cell phones,and 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver.
Using social media to bully others, called “cyber bullying,” isanother common risk that can be extremely harmful. According tothe American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), over fifteen percent ofsix- to eleven-year-olds have reported being cyber-bullied. It’s oftenused to spread rumors and other hurtful information about thevictim. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide.
“Sexting,” which is texting, emailing, or uploading explicit photos orlanguage to social media sites is also dangerous. In the AAP survey,twenty percent of teen respondents said that they have taken part insexting images of themselves.
In some states, receiving thesetypes of images from a minor can lead to felony child pornographycharges. How can we change the culture around us so that peopleuse these tools responsibly? What is upsetting to me is that nomatter what the technology, people will always find a way to abuseit.
Put technology to work for you.
One of the main reasons I decided to start my blog was to helppeople understand that technology can help us in many ways, butonly if we use it the right way and make it work for us. It’s up to eachof us to be aware of the correct ways to use social media and avoidthe things that can make it harmful. This thought from Dr. MichaelRich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’sHospital Boston sums it up, “We should not view social media aseither positive or negative, but as essentially neutral. It’s what we dowith the tools that decides how they affect us and those around us.”So how do you make social media a tool to help you connect ratherthan distract you from your real-world relationships? Consider
turning off your mobile devices and spending quality time with thepeople you care about. Here’s an idea: make a game out of ignoringyour phones the next time you have lunch with friends. Leave yourphones on, but stack them on the table together. The phones willring and the reminders will sound. Siri may remind you that it’s timefor your next meeting. But be brave—leave them in the stack! Thefirst person that checks his or her phone has to pay for everyone’smeal. That ought to give each of you an incentive to connect inperson!
I am a tech journalist with apassion for finding ways tomake technology work harderand smarter for people—notthe other way around. I’m aregular contributor totechnology publications and national public news organizations. Ilive, work, and play in the San Francisco Bay Area.
1) Staff Writers.
Battle of the Social Sexes
. Internet Service Providers,15 April 2013.
2) Browser Media, Socialnomics, MacWorld.
. Statistic Brain, 12 Aug. 2013.
3) Gerstein, Jackie, Ed.D.
Using the Internet and Social Media toEnhance Social-Emotional Learning.
User Generated Education, 25Feb. 2013.
4) Bennett, Shea.
Is Social Media Making Us Antisocial?
All Twitter,15 June 2012.
5) Marino, Kristin.
Social media: The new news source
. Schools.com,16 May 2012.
6) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and U.S.Department of Transportation.
What is Distracted Driving?
Distraction.gov, 8 Dec. 2011.
7) Korioth, Trisha.
Teach children to beware of bullies in the cyber-schoolyard
. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) News. 1 Mar.2011.
Copyright ©2021 The NROC Project
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