Poll: Is Facebook killing the art of friendship?

Is social media making us anti-social? Is social media making us anti-social?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
1:22 PM

Are you worried about what social media is doing to your life? Do you find yourself constantly logging on to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or being ignored by people who are? Kate Dodd asks if social media is destroying our social lives.

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David James, senior lecturer in socialogy at UCS, believes social media makes us more social.David James, senior lecturer in socialogy at UCS, believes social media makes us more social.

I admit to being a fan of social media. I like being able to connect with my friends and family on Facebook and Twitter, and knowing what’s happening in the world at all hours of the day. I’ll idly scroll through my Facebook newsfeed on my mobile three or four times a day without a second thought, or flick through my Twitter account. Having social media on my mobile – which barely leaves my side – means it’s all too easy to connect.

However, it also means it’s all too easy to fall victim to the alienating nature of the internet.

I understand how easy it is to become addicted to the instant spark of gratification when someone likes my Facebook updates, retweets my brilliance or reposts a picture from Instagram.

The danger comes when you start relying on social media for affirmation, validation and a sense of belonging that they can never fully provide.

Kelly Robertson has made a successful business by her canny use of social media.Kelly Robertson has made a successful business by her canny use of social media.

At least not for long. Which is why you keep returning for more. And more.

There have been widespread reports recently accusing social media of contributing to feelings of loneliness and vulnerability.

A study by the University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross shows how social media - rather than making us feel connected - reduces over-all life satisfaction.

The study’s 82 participants were text messaged five times a day over a two-week period with a link to an online survey about their Facebook use, their feelings of well-being and the amount of face-to-face social interaction they had engaged in.

Kross and his team discovered that the more time participants had spent on Facebook, the less happy they felt over time.

Their findings support a number of other studies about the detrimental effect of becoming immersed in social media, like jealousy and envy.

Hanna Krasnova of Humboldt University Berlin, who wrote a book about Facebook and envy, concludes that the more time people spent browsing the site, as opposed to actively creating content and engaging with it, the more envious they felt.

Krasnova’s research has led her to define what she calls an “envy spiral” peculiar to social media. “If you see beautiful photos of your friend on Instagram,” she says, “one way to compensate is to self-present with even better photos, and then your friend sees your photos and posts even better photos, and so on. Self-promotion triggers more self-promotion, and the world on social media gets further and further from reality.”

However, David James, senior lecturer in sociology from University Campus Suffolk, claims social media makes people more social. He says: “Research has shown that people who use social media tend to be more social in their lives.

“There tend to be imbedded in their community, and have more face to face contact. It actually makes people more social and brings people together.”

Mr James also highlights the fact that social media now connects different groups of friends, who in the past may not get chance to socialise.

“It used to exist that you would have certain fragmented friendships groups – friends at the pub, family. Now social media has levelled it off. It used to be segmented, but now it is becoming a more social area for your different friends to mix.

“It is now becoming the case that friends and parents can also interact.”

It can also be argued that the experience of sharing on social media comes with a physiological rush that is often self-reinforcing. Those who connect more through social media are said to have more community engagement, including political participation.

It seems the key to understanding why academics are so starkly divided on the question of what Facebook does to our emotional state may be in simply looking at what people actually do when they’re on the site.

A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that, when people engaged in direct interaction with others - that is, posting on walls, messaging, or ‘liking’ something - their feelings of bonding and general social capital increased, while their sense of loneliness decreased. But when participants simply consumed a lot of content passively, Facebook had the opposite effect, lowering their feelings of connection and increasing their sense of loneliness.

The debate will no doubt rumble on for generations. I guess it’s a question of moderation - deciding how you use it.

As technology infiltrates our lives we must be more and more deliberate about not losing touch with the people around us. We can’t become dependent on our online network.

Facebook and Twitter don’t make us lonely - we make ourselves lonely.

A fair few of you may well be reading this via Twitter or Facebook. I hope I haven’t left you self-loathing.

Sociability or image management? Social media users give their verdict

KELLY ROBERTSON, 35, Ford End, has made a successful career from her canny use of social media.

“Before becoming self-employed five years ago, I’d only really dabbled with social media. I had a Facebook account, but I didn’t have a clue what Twitter or any other site was all about.

When I started working from home, I found myself relying on social media as a bit of company, my contact with the outside world, my “office banter”.

Today, social media isn’t just about keeping in touch with my friends and family, it’s what helps to earn me my living.

As a newly-wed journalist – married to Mark, who I met online! - I launched wedding blog www.arealbridesguide.co.uk in December. It’s a platform for other online businesses – mainly being run by mums at home, juggling a house and family life – who also trade via social media and maybe can’t afford to get out to wedding shows with their products.

I rarely meet anyone I write about on the blog. In fact, I don’t even speak to them on the phone. Everything I do for the blog is online, via email and social media chats. That’s why I like to write Meet The Expert articles on my advertisers, so my readers (and myself) get to virtually meet the people whose products and services they may decide to buy.

The best tool I have found for my blog is the Twitter hour chats. There are endless, scheduled networking sessions, from #essexhour to #bloghour, #bridehour and #weddinghour, where you can make connections with other people in the same geographical area or industry.

Within just three months, I had reached the all-important 1,000 Twitter followers – and now have more than 1,700! Social media has made it possible to turn a blog – once seen as a hobby - into a commercial product which can earn money. For a journalist who started their career 18 years ago when the only way to make contacts was to pound the streets, social media has changed the whole way I work.”

LIZ NICE, 43, Bury St Edmunds ‘Facebook is the scourge of modern life’

It took me a while to get into Facebook. Now, however, I have 221 friends and a day never goes by when I don’t check what they’re up to. Some of them are people I haven’t seen in years. Some, I will never see again. And there are at least two people who I must confess are on there out of social embarrassment – I feel I should remember who they are. But I don’t.

Nonetheless, the quest for my movements to be ‘liked’ by these people continues. If I get fewer than 20 likes for a lovely photo of my children – well, it’s an insult, isn’t it? And no day would be complete without the opportunity to observe who is bragging about their happy marriage (aka clearly about to divorce.) I heard about someone who actually posted the end of their marriage once. Luckily, however, they got at least 25 ‘sorry to hear that’ comments so I’m sure they’re completely over it by now.

Seriously, though, what are we DOING wasting our lives on this thing? Most nights, after the children go to bed, my other half and I sit together on the sofa, scrolling. We rarely speak. If we do, we are only half listening, slightly irritated to be interrupted mid-scroll.

Someone once said to me that Facebook is ‘Hello Magazine for people no one gives a stuff about’. And woe betide you if you ever admit to a less than glossy life: my only slightly sad post in six years led to someone posting that I ought to ‘pull myself together.’ Cheers! I would have unfriended her but I didn’t want to reduce my friend quota, obviously. Although perhaps writing this will have the same effect…

MATTHEW SYMINGTON, 25, Ipswich. “It’s all a lie”

At university I had a formula: the more photos of a night out that appeared on Facebook, the worse that night had been.

Think about it. Why would it occur to people who were in the throes of a great party, fully engaged in the easy flow of conversation and lively shenanigans, to stop everything and corral their friend group into a forced picture not once, but dozens of times? How can you sustain a good atmosphere this way? You can’t.

Look behind those vacant smiles, and you’ll see a night of stilted conversation, awkward dance moves, premature yawns and a weary trudge home.

This generally won’t bother the people involved though, most of whom will be skilled at persuading themselves that they’ve had a good time when they haven’t, and who in any case find it more important that others think they’re having a good time.

And that’s the crux of it: Facebook isn’t about sociability, it’s about image management.

Really having a good time means letting your hair down, living in the moment and forgetting, however temporarily, about the future and your responsibilities.

Facebook ensures that those barriers which exist between people in the cold light of day remain in place even when they should be relaxed, carefree, even careless.

A bright blue flash from the direction of your friend while out at a club reminds you that tomorrow morning does exist, and you have a responsibility to look presentable.

By way of comparison, have a look at those grainy old photographs of your parents at a party, when one photograph per night was enough. Get a sense of the lubricated atmosphere and witness the irrepressible smiles, before everybody became a papparazzo.

JESSICA GALLAGHER, 37 Ipswich, “It’s a lifeline for mothers”

Back in the days of yore I couldn’t understand what Facebook was all about - why on earth would people want to post on a “wall” about what they were doing day in day out? And what in God’s name is a “wall” anyway?

But now I am a convert, an addict, one may say. For the inherently nosy person, such as myself, it is now an essential part of life. I am able to poke my beak into the lives of both my best friends down the road or across the world and also people I haven’t seen for 30 years without even having to pick up the phone and spend a few minutes talking to them.

I get to share the lives of so many people I normally would have lost touch with because life is just too busy sometimes - well when I say “share” I mean I get to hear about the lives they want me to believe they are living.

It’s also great for organising a night out without having to phone ten different people.

However, most importantly to me, in the first few months of motherhood, which are so isolating and frightening, it became a lifeline. I could live life vicariously through my friends and know that life was still going on around me. Turns out it wasn’t an awful lot...they were all sitting at home on Facebook too.

MATT GAW, 32, Bury, “It’s about loneliness”

I can’t help but feel there is something dismally depressing about Facebook. Its endless bon mots, the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ variants featuring kittens and more LOLs, LMAOs, YOLOs than you can throw a fistful of emoticons at. Added into that heady mix comes those old school ‘friends’ I would happily dive into a shop/throw yourself in front of a bus to avoid, should I ever happen to see them outside of the cosy thumbs-up world of the social network.

You see, however much I use Facebook – nosing at photos and ‘liking’ statuses with a God-like click that bestows happiness on the lucky recipient – there is always, somewhere in the back of my mind, the thought that this is the loneliest thing a human can do. This isn’t a social network, but a congregation of individuals firing off their thoughts into the ether, hoping that someone, somewhere, will reply and authenticate their existence. Even the term ‘status update’ sounds distinctly non human, the kind of thing a lonely satellite would beep out as it sails past stars looking for life in an empty universe.

Of course, technology has performed wonders in shrinking our planet and making people and places easier to access, but there are limits to what it can do when it comes to fostering genuine human engagement and social activity. Yes, social media can reconnect us to people or remind us to (God-forbid) see them, but we should never fool ourselves that the use of Facebook is a social act in itself.

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