Socially (Awkward) Media

An edited version of an academic essay I wrote for an assignment last semester.


Social Media plays a key role in the daily lives of most contemporary University students. It helps them share who they are, connect with others, and organize social events. But having a multitude of “friends” seemingly in the palm of one’s hand may have negative implications too. In a time of transition, such as the move to University, students are particularly vulnerable to the detrimental impacts of technology. Multitasking on multiple devices while studying or attending lectures is commonplace among students, but the splitting of attention may actually be hindering learning more than it helps. In addition, the shift to converse on Facebook or by text rather than in person is radically changing the way we create and maintain relationships.The new found ability to be virtually surrounded by so many people whilst being physically alone affects students’ perception of loneliness and development of a sense of self. The shift to social media networks has fostered connectivity, but contributed numerous distractions and altered the social dynamics of University life.

The shift to converse on Facebook or by text rather than in person is radically changing the way we create and maintain relationships

            Technology is all-pervasive in the University environment. Assignments are sent out via email, exam dates are posted on the web, and a scholarship or transfer application can now be completed with a few clicks and some typing. New technology has undoubtedly helped streamline complex processes. However, this abundance of new stimuli has begun to take its toll on the psyches of students. A significant decrease in test performance was found in students who multitask, or even watch others multitask, on laptops while in lecture. A negative correlation has also been found between Facebook use and student engagement. And now that smartphones are used for web browsing, not just phone calls, they are an additional potential distraction in the classroom setting. As Thomas L. Friedman describes in the The New York Times, “we have gone from the Iron Age to the Industrial Age to the Information age to the Age of Interruption”. It is clear that the new leap to be as connected as possible has had unintended consequences. The phrase “Continuous Partial Attention” has been used to describe how the urge to be constantly connected by smartphones and laptops can splice concentration. This new form of multi-tasking with electronic devices can have an overall negative effect on productivity and quality of work. The distribution of attention to multiple stimuli has been found to decrease the efficiency of long term memory coding. So even dividing attention (looking at a laptop or phone) for a third of class time can result in lower test scores.

            Moving to University is a time when students have more freedom than ever before. And the opportunities to take advantage of this freedom are magnified by technological tools like social media and texting on cell phones. As Naomi S. Baron states in The Dark Side of Mobile Phones: “For young people, the mobile phone is not simply an instrument for conveying information but a lifeline for managing social interaction”. For many students, the desire to be connected has almost eclipsed the desire to converse. It is not uncommon for students to spend hours at a time browsing Facebook news feeds, watching YouTube videos or playing online games. These outlets simulate human contact without the demands of real-time conversation. For those who find socializing difficult, the internet can be a welcome escape, and can provide the façade of a vibrant social life. However, prolonged exposure to social media without any real-life human contact can actually be detrimental to social skills. Some students are no longer content to be themselves. Instead, they hide behind an online smokescreen of carefully chosen profile pictures and status updates. The social faux pas of looking at one’s phone while having a conversation is becoming increasingly more common, and pauses in conversation are often being prolonged by the tapping of fingers on screens. People are so worried about offending the multitude of phone contacts with a delayed response that they forget to interact with those immediately around them. This is especially prevalent when students interview for jobs. Technologically savvy youth are finding themselves lacking the necessary communication skills and quick thinking needed to succeed. 

They hide behind an online smokescreen of carefully chosen profile pictures and status updates

With the introduction of social media, being truly alone has almost become a foreign concept. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have allowed students a glimpse into everyone else’s lives all at once. And now that students find themselves able to share with others at any given time, their perception of being alone is beginning to change. Spending any extended period of time “disconnected” from the grid has become a challenging endeavor. Additionally, by using phones and laptops to deal with seclusion, students have lost the idea of what being alone truly means. Learning to deal with solitude is an important stage of development in adolescence, and those who learn to cope with it are better adjusted. So by replacing solitude with the quasi-socializing of the internet, students lose out. As Sherry Turkle points out in her TED talk, “the moment that people are alone, even for a few seconds, they become anxious, they panic, they fidget, they reach for a device”.

            The new proliferation of technology in Universities has had a massive impact on the way students learn and interact with one another. The likelihood of distraction in class has reached an all-time high, the way students converse and connect is being drastically altered, and any real semblance of alone time is becoming a thing of the past. As more research is done, the true repercussions of students’ enfatuation with social media and technology will come to light. For now, the trend shows that there is a dark side to the wonderment of social media and internet connectivity. Students should focus on the ways these amazing tools can improve their lives, instead of hindering their development. The path towards a techno-society must be trodden with care, lest we lose the humanity that brought us there in the first place.

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