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I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never gotten distracted by my iPhone during a conversation. In a world where our phones are basically our lifelines, it’s hard not to keep them within reach at all times. We habitually put them on the table during lunch, or keep them in our laps during class, or hold them in our palms as we walk. The days of keeping our phones buried at the bottom of our bags are long over.

Sure, it’s reassuring to have everything we need within fingers’ reach, but what effect does our fixation with our phones have on our real-life interactions? The majority of us use our phones to keep in touch with our friends and acquaintances through social networking apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. By constantly being able to check what’s going on in the online world, we feel ethereally connected to our social groups, always. As the years go on, more and more people are joining the world of social networking– social network usage for internet users of all ages has risen from 8% in 2003 to 73% in 2015.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Peter Kurkeskov Rasmussen.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Peter Kurkeskov Rasmussen.

Has this increase in online socialization lead to a decrease in offline socialization? A recent Virginia Tech study concluded that people who have their phones out are more likely to get distracted during conversations than those who have it out of sight. Another study conducted by FlashGap found that 87% of millennials felt that they missed out on conversations because they were more focused on their phones than their surroundings. 54% said that when not checking social networks, they experienced FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out.)

Is it possible that the very apps that were designed to aid us in our social endeavors are hindering our ability to be social face-to-face?

It’s possible that we’ve gotten so attached to our online connections that we take our offline interactions for granted. Our social media society is so glued to our phones that we tune out the world around us. Real-world conversations are reduced to background noise as we dwell on the conversations in the palm of our hands. We find ourselves struggling to give our full attention to those in the same room as us because we are so distracted by what might be going on in another place with other people.

Image courtesy of Kevin Curtis, via Unsplash.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Curtis, via Unsplash.

By not offering our full attention to those with whom we are speaking, we run the risk of seeming unsympathetic or uncaring, lowering the quality of our relationships in the real world. The Virginia Tech study found that the empathy that usually arises during a conversation with a friend gets downsized when a phone enters the equation. So, at the risk of devaluing our offline relationships, a conscious decision has to be made to put away the phone and focus on the world around us.

Our online worlds can wait; we need to realize that we won’t miss out on anything by not checking our phone for a few hours. The beauty of social networking is that it will still be there a few hours, even days, from now. A real-life conversation, however, is fleeting. And if we don’t learn to appreciate and take advantage of those moments, we might lose the ability to make meaningful social connections offline.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Matthew G.

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2 thoughts on “Is Social Media Making Us Less Social?

  1. I think you’re echoing a lot of sentiments that people (mostly older people) express when they talk about millennials and our constant need to be connected. While it’s important that we realize the value of the technology available of our fingertips, we can’t let it become an obsession that reduces our ability to socialize with other people on a face-to-face level. I don’t think it’s social media’s fault that we’re so distracted by our phones; I think it’s instead the person’s fault for not knowing proper etiquette when talking to someone in person, or knowing the right times to put your phone away and enjoy the moment you’re in. Some of my best memories have been made when my phone was either dead or had no signal.

    When I was in high school, my parents would berate me for using my phone under the dinner table, especially out at restaurants. Since I’ve matured and realized the value of in-person communication, now at dinner with friends I put it in my pocket, and get beyond annoyed when friends leave theirs on the table next to their silverware. Another good alternative is to put your phones in the middle of the table and the first person to touch their phone has to cover everyone’s bill for the night (though this may be a little counterintuitive considering the Virginia Tech study about being distracted by your phone in front of you).

    So I don’t think technology is at fault when people say we’re “forgetting how to communicate”. Communication is just changing (once again), and it’s up to us to learn how to navigate these different forms of communication. When our parents were young, their parents would yell at them for spending all day talking on the home phone with their friends, and that they were forgetting how to talk to people face-to-face. This idea of forgetting how to communicate with people in real life isn’t a new issue, but rather an old argument that has simply taken on a new form in today’s environment of social media. It’s up to each person to know how to effectively balance offline and online communication; social media shouldn’t be the one to blame, but rather the social media user for letting it compromise their ability to communicate with others in real-life situations.

  2. Hey Claudia!
    This is definitely something that many people have an issue with, especially older generations. My grandma is always yelling at me to get off my phone, even if I’m doing something important like checking emails from professors. I’ve been thinking about this topic more and more since arriving to Prague, and it has been made apparent to me how much I do use my phone since I rarely have wifi here and seem to constantly be reaching for it, even though I know I can’t use it.
    As most study abroad experiences go, there is traveling to be done most weekends, and it is anxiety-inducing to say the least trying to figure out which hostel has free wifi. It’s almost a weekly pattern – get to the hostel/airbnb, connect to wifi, and browse our cell phones for about 20 minutes before moving on to the next activity. Its true, I have my phone on me at all times and take most chances to connect to wifi and inform my friends of what I have been up to through photos and check-ins. Oddly enough, its mostly at the request of my parents who beg me to upload as much as possible so they could take a look at where I’ve been. (I also want to add here that social media now seems to be bridging the gap between today’s generation and the generation that exists right before us – even though my grandmother doesn’t approve, my parents constantly try to keep up with the latest in social networking).
    I do agree that sometimes our use of social media is excessive, and has to be used in appropriate ways as well as at appropriate times to ensure that we don’t lose ourselves in our phones rather than pay attention to conversation. However, I have never appreciated social media more than when I arrived to Prague. Since I can’t have a data plan, I can only communicate with friends and family through wifi. I have no choice but to use apps like Whatsapp, Facebook, and even Snapchat to stay in touch with my loved ones at home. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if these apps didn’t exist. Its true that when I’m not connected to wifi or data while at home, I feel kind of lost. But coming to study here has really made me think differently about our generation’s use of mobile phones. I have gotten used to not always being able to use my phone, such as when I leave my dorm or whichever hostel I’m staying at for the weekend. You mentioned that being constantly connected online may make it possible for us to take our offline interactions for granted, but I think it has actually helped me to appreciate the time that I spend with friends when we are all in conversation and our phones are nowhere to be seen. I think it allows me to be more involved, and I am always aware that I shouldn’t have my phone out during certain occasions. This may not be true for everyone, but I think as our generation gets older we realize more and more that being connected online shouldn’t interfere with our offline interactions.

    -Becky

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