Originally, this article's title was going to be "The Degradation of Social Interaction in the Age of Internet Media," but for obvious reasons I shortened it to something more catchy. What I have been noticing in myself and those around me isn't necessarily that concerning until I realized that it is a much broader and greater trend than I had originally thought. Not only a trend, but a norm for those in the younger generation that have grown up within it.
This trend is the movement of social interactions from the physical, real-time realm to the digital. At first, this may seem obvious— the internet has opened up new opportunities for communication, which is excellent, but it has also changed the very way people think about communication.
For example, look at how a conversation was carried out in the early 1900s: face to face if it was possible, and written or telegramed if it was required. Nowadays, a large quantity of communications are typed, texted, or sent with a visual accompaniment— not because it is required, but because either it is the most convenient or because it is the socially accepted, even preferred, method. This hints at an impatience that our society has. It sends the message, “I don't have time for you so put your message in my sphere and I'll get back to you… or I'll leave you on ‘read.’”
For the most part, I get it. We lead busy lives and it is most convenient to text questions we have, updates we wish to share, or any other message we have. But that creates a problem: no longer are we deepening relationships between those around us and ourselves, we are instead creating a false image of ourselves. We are a product, and our close friends are the consumers of that product.
This is where interactions on social media really contribute to changes in social interaction. We go to the socially preferred platform and we send out our message, whatever it is. We then wait for others to contribute to the product we have created. And here is where our relationships experience the greatest distortion. Since the majority of our social interaction is now taking place on a stage, no one is being nice to anyone else just for the sake of being nice. Since the audience is seeing the conversations that are occurring, everyone else is tailoring their response for others to see how nice they are. And this can create a serious problem. We must not simply say positive (or negative) things to those we interact with because we are being watched, but because that is what we truly believe about that person. This is the side effect of platform-communication. And an easy solution is to simply let the person know in person, if possible, what you thought. This is an area that I myself must also improve upon— to not let my words be shaped by how I think they will be perceived by the audience, but to be intentional and have the one-on one interaction as opposed to the platform-communication.
Another area of precarious social impact is within youtube, and the age of vlogging. For those who feel starved for genuine friendships, fret no more! Come to youtube where people are sharing every detail of their lives with you, their friend, whom they care about and value. That 'disconnect' everyone is facing because of the distance created by social media has created a desire for conversation and friendship that is being satisfied through the youtuber dialogue. Youtubers are providing pseudo-genuine interactions with their audiences and the scary thing is, for most people, it is just satisfying enough that the problem is deferred. If someone feels like they haven't been fulfilled by their friends on other social platforms, they can simply go to youtube and get their daily dose of interaction with their vlogger friends. And here lies another great problem, most of these vloggers have no desire to be friends with their audience members. For them this is just a show, a show that is fun for them to make, and as long as the audience feels connected, their show can also be very profitable. Because the money isn't being made on youtube, it's being made by online merch sales and meet and greet ticket sales, not to mention sponsorships and other methods of corporate marketing.
Now this may seem like a lot, and perhaps a bit preachy– and perhaps it is, but that doesn't mean that the problem of social interaction isn't there. And the solution is very simple. We don't have to stop what we're doing online, we just have to be conscious of it and not let it take the place of activities that, as humans, we need. If we can be intentional and spend more time with each other, without distractions of lesser importance, then we can lead healthier lives. I titled this piece “Social Interaction in the Age of Youtube” because I think the main issue is that we aren't getting enough meaningful social interaction, and people are becoming lonely. Kind of like the phrase/idea alone in a crowd. We are more connected with the world than ever before, but we are deeply out of touch with those around us and even ourselves. And even though that doesn't directly follow the definition of loneliness, it certainly has some similar side effects. If not dealt with soon enough, we will begin to experience true loneliness, unless we make a point of pursuing true friendship.
For the purposes of ensuring that everyone who reads this article has the opportunity to decide for themselves what they believe about this issue, I have included a list of articles that have similar views to mine and I encourage you to read them. However, I will also encourage you to find articles that disagree with these points and decide for yourself how you feel about this issue.
“Does social media make us more lonely?” - Canadian Mental Health Association, Prince George Branch; “People Who Use Social Media A Lot Are Isolated” - Rachel Hosie, The Independent; “Are Social Networks Causing Loneliness Among Teens?” - AJ Agrawal, Huffpost.