Social media has connected the world like never before.
College students walk around campus with their faces buried in their phones. These ubiquitous devices are the link that connect everyone to rest of the world.
Before the internet, the sharing of information took quite some time and distance created barriers to communication. But now, some people don’t realize what they have until it’s gone, especially when it comes to cellular devices. Unlike any other generation, today’s students are able to connect with each other, members of the community and others around the world in a matter of seconds.
Through tweets, blog posts, and a seemingly neverending stream of notifications, social media has presented the world with a vision of cohesiveness. But some worry that the individual’s connections to their phones is beginning to disconnect them from the people that are right in front of them.
Carter Rakovski, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at CSUF, has studied internet communication and the effects it has on social interaction skills between individuals. Rakovski has found that while these social sites make it easier to keep up with the people we have met, our face-to-face communication skills sometimes grow weaker as a result.
“It is appealing to have more time to craft your presentation of self to others and to have more control over your appearance in a digital platform,” Rakovski said. “There is also less risk of rejection and embarrassment when interacting with people online rather than in person.”
Social media and online interactions between students (as opposed to in-person interactions) has grown in popularity.
There is a growing number of students who have expressed feelings of anxiety when it comes to face-to-face interactions because they are becoming less confident in their interpersonal and communication social skills, Rakovski said.
Ninety percent of young adults ages 18 to 29 use social media, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center. The number of social media users in this age group has increased by 78 percentage points in the last decade. Popular social networking sites have seen big growth and the number of new members is only expected to grow as time goes on.
Facebook reached over 1.7 billion active members in the second quarter of 2016, Instagram had about 500 million users as of June 2016 and Snapchat had approximately 150 million users as of the same month.
As Aristotle once said, “Man is by nature a social animal.” This increase in social network membership by young adults reflects the human desire to be part of various groups and communities.
Alex Hernandez, a kinesiology major, sees the rise in popularity of social media as a double-edged sword. While it may solve some problems, it has the potential to cause them as well. Hernandez put forth the example of his nephew using social media instead of working on school assignments.
“He won’t be sitting down at the table doing the homework. The laptop will be turned on, his paper and notebooks will be open, but he’ll be lying down on the couch on his phone,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said he believed that dedicated and hardworking students shouldn’t be fazed by the potential distractions of social media. However, he admits that the majority of students today are heavily hooked on their phones and compared it to campuses of 30 years ago.
“Students were talking to each other, communicating, being social. Nowadays, you’ll walk through a hallway and 9 out of 10 students are on their phones with earbuds in their ears. They’re not being social, they’re using their phones as a getaway so they won’t have to be awkward and have to make that breaking of the ice,” Hernandez said. “As social media does increase, try not to be a conformist. Just because 10 of your friends have social media doesn’t mean you have to get it.”
Gail Love, Ph.D., associate professor of communications, has studied and educated her own students on the impacts of social media. Rather than focusing on its negative impacts, Love studies how social media platforms provide opportunities for students to develop professional images online.
“All students are heavy users of social media,77 but they’re going to have to learn to use it in a different way,” Love said. “If it becomes so overwhelming, it can affect academic performance, just as letting in other outside distractions keeps you from performing at your top capability.”
As social media continues to become more pervasive in daily life, it is important for students to remember to detach from time to time.
While the enormous impact of the internet on social media is comparable to the effect that Gutenberg’s press had on the free flow of information to the rest of the world, it is left up to the humans using it to increase collaboration and communication skills both on and off social media.