Social Media Cannot Replace Face-To-Face Interaction

How We Misuse Social Media

What did Former Facebook Exec Chamath Palihapitiya say during an interview with CNBC that should make us very concerned about social media?

He shared a true story: “[Former Twitter Exec Adam Bain and I] went to watch a sports game to see our favourite team. We’re sitting courtside which was amazing. I took a picture, and my friend took a picture. We sweated the photo filter for 15 minutes trying to figure out which photo to use, because we were so craving the reaction. If this is what we are going through, then what must everybody else be going through?”

The interviewer concurred, “You’re not really watching the game, and not really paying attention to what’s happening around you.”

This shows that even the creators of social media platforms are not immune to its negative effects. There are many examples of where social media has replaced real-life interaction.

Even if you are not an avid social media user, you are still affected. Perhaps you were at a bus stop, and everyone is looking down at their smartphone. Perhaps you were at the dinner table with your kids. Whatever it was, you’ve met people whose smartphones were an excuse not to start a meaningful conversation.

How the Internet Connects and Disconnects

The Internet began with a vision to connect people who were living far away from each other. It gave us what television did not.

Television is a passive medium, where we simply sit there and consume what is presented to us without having to interact with another person. Fortunately, the Internet changed this and allowed us to actively participate across distances with many people at once.

It’s amazing how we can use the Internet to find a long-lost friend, connect with people who share common interests, find out about our friends lives without having to talk to them, get the latest news around the world, and share news to get a reaction from our friends.

We’ve come to rely on our smartphones to keep connected with the world at all times. The people who are not connected online now seem alien to us.

However, technology can be misused in ways that are hurting our lives. It can actually do the opposite of what we intended. It can detach us from the real-world in which we live. We are vulnerable to letting our choices be manipulated by other people for their own selfish gain.

What The Facebook Data Scandal Revealed

The recent Facebook data-mining scandal in March 2017 was a sudden wake up call that our private lives and personal choices can easily be manipulated in ways that benefit the very few.

The creators themselves warned us many times even before the data scandal:

Chamath Palihapitiya explained, “We live in a world now where it is easy to confuse truth and popularity, and you can use money to amplify whatever you believe… and get people to believe that what is popular is truthful, and what is not popular may not be truthful.”

Sean Parker (ex-Facebook President) explained that when Facebook was being developed, the objective was: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?”

It was this mindset that led to the creation of features such as the “like” button that would give users “a little dopamine hit” to keep them addicted to sharing more of their private lives.

Social media can help us communicate and enhance our lives, but using it as a substitute for face-to-face and physical interaction can do the opposite.

It can also disconnect us from the real world by making us too busy caring about people we hardly know or about things which may not be true. And that means we have less time to care about things that actually matter and to make our own choices.

It can give us an excuse to avoid confronting reality, by substituting it with a distorted version of it that attracts “likes”. It can prevent us from building positive and meaningful relationships.

The Critical Questions We Should Be Asking

Technological evolution is as much as a social evolution. It goes through several phases, and we’ve just gone through adolescence with social media, and we now need maturity.

You should ask yourself these critical questions whenever you let technology into your life:

  • Does technology help you build positive, meaningful relationships, or do it hinder this process?
  • Are you better able to communicate, listen, and share because of it?
  • Do you use it to improve your relationships and build new ones?
  • Are you letting a few choice people know who you are and what you contribute to this world, or are you merely distracting yourself with shallow pursuits?
  • Does it increase or decrease your concern for others, your compassion for others, and your desire to serve them?”

(questions credited to: Human Kinetics).

Your smartphone should not be a substitute for real-life interaction. It should be a way to find real-life interaction. Just like how you don’t use your GPS to imagine going from A to B, but to actually get from A to B. It should only be a starting point for building meaningful relationships and gaining real-life experience.

To paraphrase famous quotes:

“It’s not what you say in life, but what you do that defines you”, inspired by Carl Jung.

“Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” Albert Einstein

Start a Real Conversation Today

We should use this as an opportunity to reclaim our personal lives, have real-life interactions, and make our own choices in a way that benefits us all. Instead of looking at your smartphone, look at the people around you. Try to start a conversation with the person next to you.

This can be very challenging, especially when others are still hooked onto their smartphone. It makes you feel like you’re intruding into their mental space. The smartphone is often an “anti-icebreaker”.

Fortunately, we have environments that specifically encourage meaningful face-to-face interaction without being socially awkward.

Toastmasters is an excellent social environment to learn from each other, share our life’s experiences and great ideas, and enjoy the presence of other human beings. It’s a place where we can be mentored, and become more effective in communication and leadership. These are the most important skills in having successful personal and professional lives.

How do you join Toastmasters? There are Toastmasters clubs all around the world. There’s probably one near to where you live. Not every club is the same, even though they all given the same guidelines and resources by Toastmasters International.

If you are considering joining Toastmasters, then try visiting a couple of clubs that are held at a convenient time and venue. You’ll get a better insight on how the club is run and how well you relate with people there. It will help you choose the club that you believe is best for you.

Co-authored by Christopher Tso and Jussine Tan.

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