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Friday, October 24, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 4/5/2014

COMMENTARY

The more we use social media, the less social we become

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST
Johanek Johanek
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The term “social media” is a misnomer. There is nothing inherently social about tapping into cyberspace.

The addictive activity doesn’t promote genial interaction with other human beings. It isolates individuals.

Engaging in social media is the opposite of being social. My dictionary defines the latter as “relating to or involving activities in which people spend time talking to each other or doing enjoyable things with each other.”

Being social means enjoying the companionship of friends and associates. It means forming cooperative and interdependent relationships, preferring community to living alone.

But those who live for social media connections don’t need community in the traditional sense. They can text, email, tweet, and post by themselves. They can connect with Facebook “friends” and never leave home.

Actual face-to-face conversation with actual eye contact is unnecessary. Instant messaging makes personal contact irrelevant.

Social sustenance and self-esteem come from online connections that few addicts, especially newly indoctrinated young people, can survive without. Being tied to social media is a modern plague that has paralyzed customary social development — or how we deal with one another as unplugged human beings.

It’s sad and getting sadder. Smart phones, computer tablets, and ever-advancing digital technology have replaced relating to people. They control users instead of the other way around.

Society has become all about getting the latest upgrades, the newest model, the sleeker, prettier version that promises to do more things faster. Super phones are status symbols.

We’ve got to have them, hold them, and look at them. It doesn’t matter where people are. In a packed auditorium or bustling venue, they escape into their handheld worlds.

They are oblivious to those walking and talking around them, to wonder, to life in real time. What matters is being connected to their social media, their crutch, their portal to preoccupation.

With iPhones, iPads, and iPods, people can text about nothing, play games with no one, and go nowhere important without ever looking up. They are keyed in to whatever is trending in social media, and connecting without saying a word to a companion who is likewise preoccupied.

I’m not against new technology. But I am against broad acceptance of it as a replacement for meaningful social intercourse among individuals, families, and communities.

A recent article on techcrunch.com defends Google Glass, the wearable computer. It suggested that when technology finds its way into the mainstream, negative reaction fades away.

That’s what I’m afraid of. I don’t want spontaneous conversations, friendly relations, and eye contact to fade away.

The article’s author, Ron Miller, quoted Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway self-powered scooter, as saying: “Almost everybody is reluctant to change almost everything. Whatever you learned as a kid, you want to keep always.”

Yes and no. Awesome technological advances, which many of us never dreamed of as kids, have led to greater efficiency and convenience.

But high tech is supposed to expand our horizons, not diminish what makes us human. The ramifications of anyone wearing a new device such as Google Glass give pause about privacy issues and the need for public safeguards.

If and when Google Glass imitates the proliferation of smart phones, society may demand regulations similar to restrictions imposed on cell phone use and texting. Public welfare trumps the need to be connected online, all the time.

Adjusting to technology is different from succumbing to it socially. I’m a Baby Boomer who clacked on newsroom typewriters before computers came along. Adjustment was challenging, but the rewards of high-speed Internet access were quickly evident.

The rewards of 21st-century obsession with social media are less clear. Exchanging close personal contact for a screen isolates the user in a cyber-world that mimics community.

It’s not the same as talking to people, looking at the expression on their faces, reading their eyes. Being social is not the same thing as being solitary with a smart phone.

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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