Six reasons to be wary of social networking

While I was skiing a few months ago I observed a situation which made me feel old, well, at least found me pining for simpler times. Sitting a a table near me was a young girl phoning her friend to tell her that she was uploading her photos to her facebook profile and that she should take a look. This in itself wouldn’t have been so bad had it not been for the fact that the friend in question was sitting at another table only a matter of a few yards away from her. I knew this as I was able to hear both sides of the phone conversation simultaneously. I’m not joking here, by the way; this really happened.

This clearly and rather horrifyingly – it is horrifying, just think about it for a minute – shows how our latest generation of students is being ever more exposed to social networking sites. The Internet now utterly surrounds us. When we are not on our laptops at home surfing the Internet we – by we I mean you – use ‘Smartphones’ and ‘netbooks’ to satisfy our – your – addiction to the new media. Even if you haven’t talked to someone in a decade, you know his or her entire life story by following their bloody Facebook page. It’s reaching the point where college students are demonstrating that there is a direct correlation between their social networking intensity and life satisfaction. Students who ‘use’ social networking now consider themselves more ‘satisfied’ with their ‘lives’.

Furthermore, young people use social networking websites to follow otherwise mundane topics such as politics. Students use the platforms as a place to discuss current events, as witnessed in the 2008 American Presidential Election. Students who were regarded as ‘less likely to discuss these issues in real life’ participated in discussion boards, surveys, and other interactive content. Isn’t this a good thing? Social networking sites now provide young people, in many cases, with their only contact with news, purely in soundbite form. This feels mighty dangerous to me.

Social networking sites have rapidly become a resource for people to share their own experiences as they connect with other users and their experiences. Such sites have become the contemporary human’s ‘third place’. This ‘place’, which used to be the pub or other such locale, can now be located at home and work (conventionally our first and second places). These sites have become an all too convenient way to connect with friends, family, and peers, to share photos, videos, stories, and let other users know what they are currently doing. This convenience is coming at an extreme price. Here are some ways in which we – you – are endangering ourselves – yourselves – with the overuse of social networks.

1. They encourage infantilism

I wrote reasonably recently about trying to overcome the difficulties my students have with dealing concentrating in class and getting them to actively think. These problems may well stem from infantilism, which is the persistence of infantile characteristics in one’s adult life. Similar to the way that babies or young children constantly need stimulus, many scientists fear this is exactly what is happening to the adult mind with overexposure to social networking websites.

2. They augment attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder

The other night I was watching the Tarkovsky masterpiece ‘Solaris’. This film, like Tarkovsky’s other, is characterized by extremely slow camera panning and prolonged focus on miniscule details. While watching it struck me how difficult it would be for my students to sit down and devote two and a half hours of their lives to this film. The have, quite simply, not grown up in an environment in which they have been required to focus for an extended period of time on one particular stimulus. The practice of logging on daily to see hundreds of new photos, comments, and user statuses have begun to take away our ability to keep our focus on something for more than an hour or two, making ADHD a very real and possible effect of social networking sites.

3. They lead to depression and loneliness

Social networks provide an outlet for the socially challenged to express themselves in digital form. However, the term ‘social networking’ genuinely misleads people into believing they are becoming increasingly social beings. Sitting in front of your computer for hours on end chatting with friends while playing bloody Farmville does not translate into the development of social skills. People become dependent on the technology and forget how to interact with the world around them. When interacting with someone through text messages, instant messaging, or email, a large segment of how humans interact with one another is gone.

4. They cause narcism

Narcism is the excessive love or admiration of yourself. This has become one of the largest problems associated with the development of online personas, especially in social network users. Social network sites seem to be enhancing self-entitled thinking and this is a very dangerous thing. This can negatively affect how we see ourselves, as well as how we treat and perceive others. The result of all this is that someone’s online personality may be completely different from their offline persona, causing chaos when their two lives interconnect. The negative impact of social networking sites is evident in online dating when the couple meets face-to-face for the first time. Frequently, their personalities do not match their self-written, narcissistic descriptions. It is much easier to type what someone wants to hear – and what you have actually started to believe about yourself – rather than telling the truth.

5. They are decimating productivity in the workplace

There are of course benefits to using social networks in the work community, especially if employees are promoting their business on the Internet. Examples might include posting new content to school or university profiles, adding pictures of work-related events, and interacting with potential students. Nevertheless, if you’re facing a performance evaluation, you should probably reassess your use of social media at work. I have colleagues who can’t control their Facebook use to the extent that they are frequently ten to fifteen minutes late for class because they are using this website. Social networking sites create too many distractions in the workplace and cost employers money. It’s estimated that employees are currently spending on average of 40 minutes per week on social networking sites while at work. While 40 minutes may not sound like a long time, over a one-year period it is costing employers in America alone in excess of $2 billion.

6. In some cases you may be risking your job

The likes of Facebook and MySpace are excellent resources for human resource managers because they offer revealing information about a candidate’s true ‘interests’. Most job seekers don’t bother to set their profiles to private, leaving an open door to their potential employers. Almost every profile contains embarrassing or compromising information to an employer, such as their political affiliation or religion (think about the culture you’re working in). Younger generations seem to have a complete disregard for their own privacy, opening doors to unwelcome predators or stalkers. Information posted on social networks is permanent. When someone posts pictures or videos on the internet they can go ‘viral’ (a word which apparently now has positive connotations). When the user deletes a video from his or her social network, someone may have already posted it on YouTube. People post photographs and video files on social networking sites without thinking and the files might reappear at the worst possible moments.

Is it all bad?

Some describe the likes of Twitter as being a great tool for research and inspiration. This is presumably because of the Medici effect of all the criss-crossing connections between users sharing conversations, ideas, questions and links. By attracting talented individuals from many different fields and cultures, the Medicis got all these creative people in contact with one another to trade ideas and collaborate. This intersection of concepts and diverse backgrounds kicked off the Renaissance, one of the most innovative eras in human history. Some claim we could see such resurgence in creativity thanks to social networking.

Nevertheless, the negative impact of social networking sites is profound. People are becoming increasingly dependent on their social networks and the internet in general. The use of smart phones and broadband Internet connections is widespread and is leading to increased dependency on social networks. The effects of social networking can be seen at work, in our classrooms and throughout society in general. Excessive use of the technology is creating antisocial and house dwelling citizens who lack social skills.

I’d be very happy to hear your rebuttals, and will leave you with this one thought: you don’t see the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise engaged in anything analogous to tweeting, do you?


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26 thoughts on “Six reasons to be wary of social networking

  1. Adam,I broadly agree here, in particular with your points 1 and 6. I wonder if some of the younger generation (and I include people in my age bracket in this as well) realise how much they are sharing through their use of social media. Last year I was pretty shocked how much I could see on some of my students’ Facebook profiles just putting their names into the search box and not even connected to them as a ‘Friend’ there. Another thing I don’t get is people giving themselves rather silly nicknames on Facebook (sometimes there’s even another version of their name in brackets), and yesterday I actually saw a profile of someone whose surname was Cexii – that’s not a joke, by the way. I wonder what potential future employers would think of all that…

    However, I do believe that used effectively and efficiently that these social media do have the potential to be used for creative and useful endeavours. The key is in who is using them, of course.

    Thanks for this food for thought. It is really of utmost importance that we continue to question what is what, especially in these increasingly connected times.

    Best,

    Mike

  2. Great post and some very, very deeply interesting points for discussion.

    I have been in this sort of situation – observing people tweeting or FBing or even just using their mobile phones texting/phoning when you’re supposed to be out, having a night out.

    I’ve even had a mate round to watch a DVD who participated in an online forum discussion, tapping on the keyboard all the way through the film.

    I don’t like what’s happening and don’t do this sort of thing personally, tweet out non-stop while having a meal! Are you kidding!! I don’t know, mostly it really seems a massive and total lack of manners and I was, like most others who are on the site, raised better – still you do see it bandied about (with a bit of nose-looking-down on those who don’t think this is kosher), like it should somehow, suddenly, be acceptable, some kind of social norm to completely immerse oneself in one’s own ego stroke :-)…

    Distinctly, emphatically, I have begun to take a very sharp look at my own social media practice in order to curb the time and energy spent vs. my real-life work commitments and commitments to relationships, setting aside specific dates and times for these tasks especially when I see so much “denial” floating about with regard to the idea of multi-tasking.

    Denial in others is always a helpful mirror for one’s own denial! :))

    Now, I’m a techie, really quite obviously, so don’t get me wrong and I still advocate the use of these tools – however like everything, I say in moderation.

    I wouldn’t suggest to someone that they eat pizza every night, drink wine throughout the day but a glass of wine and a slice of pizza don’t and won’t cause health risks. Done to excess they do.

    Actually, I was just saying to some friends of mine* the other day that I think, having had the backpacker-across-Asia life experience, that these social-media sites are a lot like drugs and they very much do cause ‘highs’ to occur in the brain and as with all drugs which are taken in excess, there most certainly will be repercussions for those who make the ‘drug’ the focus of the day and there will be marriage failures, neglect and abuse of children or oneself, alienation from society, unemployment, lack of ability to prioritize even over things like tweeting vs eating, mental diseases and so on and so on.

    The use of willpower must be employed – in fact net-addiction really, really needs to become a bigger part of the discussion with regard to social-media.

    In fact I would say that all your points were very valid, the ADHD and narcissism are issues we all see daily however your listing of infantilism was also fascinating – as actually, sometimes you do notice people tweeting out things which really, rather, belong on the primary-school yard.

    And I often think that it may well be, with regard to the depression/loneliness angle that on the one side there are a lot of people who are indeed lonely (their spouses/partners travel a lot or they don’t have any real relationships) but there are others who do but are driven by the excitement of being around “more” interesting folks and/or suddenly finding themselves becoming “someone” to others that they will indeed risk even their real relationships and real friendships for these somewhat more non-real relationships.**

    In some cases, I have even thought that perhaps people who have never experienced socialization training in kindergarten/ perhaps who have always had massive psychological or physiological issues are the ones most likely to be drawn to sites like Twitter… it’s quite hard, it’s such a new era of communication and I should state for the digital record that I do question and consider that I myself most definitely have committed a number of sins on these sites.

    Who knows… self-realization is always important and always important to explore one’s motives, doings and the like so this was a great post – thanks for writing it.

    *** the asterisks: the flipside of all of my comment above is that personally I have also been hugely fortunate to have met online an incredible amount of professional colleagues and I have become part of an amazingly rich teaching community of practice – I’m infinitely grateful that I joined these sites which is why I am still on them and still advocate them.

    I have even met some people (like you) who I’d previously met only online and that has been such a rewarding experience – the surprising warmth one feels for those one usually only has written communication with online is an incredible development in human real-life communication! And even more, I have even left home, traveled across countries to spend a week with two people who I got to know more online (but I had known one of them prior and we all met and spent a lot of time together at IATEFL in April) and the holiday was wonderfully good fun and we’re even planning on tweeting-up with someone else in another country – one of the things in fact, that was incredible was how much we were like very old friends, knowing more in some respects (given the frequent online communication) than RL friends usually do about each other.

    AAAhhh… it’ll all work out in the end I bet.
    Take care,
    Karenne

    By the way, your website still jumps around whenever I visit it and try to scroll through a post, I’m not sure what it is about this site or if anyone else has this problem but it makes for hard-reading!;.(

  3. Thank a lot for the huge and wonderful replies, Karenne and Mike.

    Karenne, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you say that it’s all about moderation. I, like you, have been able to make new friends and develop myself professionally thanks greatly to social networking. I’ve also found family members that I never even knew existed through such resources. Nevertheless, these huge benefits don’t negate the need to be cautious in your habits of using social networks.

    Mike, I think that the teenage users who are entering the workplace for the first time really have no idea of the kind of damage they might be doing to themselves with the kind of things they make available on the net. At least things are tightening up in terms of privacy.

  4. All very interesting Adam, & I don’t disagree with much of what you are saying…

    Social media can be very addictive, and like Karenne, I’ve also been trying to take a bit of a step back from it of late in a bid to get more done and strike a better balance… I don’t think I’ve got the makings of a complete social media addict though. My other half has recently started using Facebook and Twitter, but we still talk to each other face to face, rather than send messages; in fact, while I was reading this, he came into my office to thank me for retweeting something he’d posted :-)

    Although I agree with you when you say that “social networks provide an outlet for the socially challenged to express themselves in digital form”, I don’t see this as such a bad thing myself, given that the alternative for chronically shy and socially awkward people is likely to be little or no interaction at all with others, and sitting at home feeling lonely. I think socially adept people are more at risk of going over to the “Dark Side”, personally.

    Sue

  5. Hi Adam,
    Excellent, I think what you wrote is very interesting and hits the nail on the head. I’d like to use your article as a basis for a discussion on this topic in one of my classes. Would that be OK with you?
    My idea:
    1. Briefly discuss with students what social networking actually means.
    2. Have students produce, in groups or individually, a short text of 60 words or so summarizing their ideas on the topic.
    3. Have students present their texts followed by a short class discussion.
    4. Have students study your text either in class or for homework.

    Best wishes,
    Joan Walsh

  6. Thanks, Sue.

    Yeah, I’ve some friends who find it very difficult to communicate their emotions in what they – often correctly – perceive to be a hostile world. A great many friends have come to terms with being able to share issues such as their homosexuality on the egalitarian, playing-field-leveling facebook. This site is by no means totally a bad thing.

    Hi Joan, that sounds great. I’d love to hear how it goes (and maybe borrow the idea from you)!

  7. “you don’t see the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise engaged in anything analogous to tweeting, do you?” LOL i don’t see them engaged in anything analogous to eating actually! they never stop working, and the only reason they replicate food is so that they are interrupted. so perhaps not a model for real mortals… (hey, you struck a trekkie chord here!)

    1. Thanks, Natalia. Your point about the food is a good one, although I still consider the appearance of a particular technology in Star Trek as a measure of whether or not something should have been invented. Having said that, the only reason they came up with the idea of beaming people down to planets was because the carpenter who’d been given the job of building the transporter ship that would have otherwise carried them down to the alien worlds didn’t finish his project in time for the first episode. Thus is history written!

  8. Took me time to read through all the comments, but I really enjoyed them and the article. It proved to be very informative to me and I am sure to all the commenters here!

    It’s always nice when you can not only be given a fresh approach to looking at such things, but also entertained! I’m sure you had as much fun writing this article.

  9. Glad you reposted this in your hidden gms post or I wouldn’t have found it. Agree generally, although there’s a lot of good to be had form social networking too. I’d agree that a cettain amount of self discipline is required if you’re not to let then take over your life.

  10. Thanks for the recent replies from Alex, Tony, Dave, Angus and McCormack. I guess reposting it in the ‘Hidden Gems’ post brought it to a wider audience.

    For my part, I’ve become significantly more addicted to twitter since writing the post. For the better? We’ll see…

  11. As a Newbie, I am constantly exploring blog articles that can help me with my teaching. Thank you, this really was food for thought.

  12. Excellent read, I just forwarded this on to a colleague who was doing a little research on the subject…… And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him. So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

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