The almost 2.6 billion people on social media

The Merriam
Webster dictionary defines social media as: “forms of electronic communication
(such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users
create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and
other content (such as videos) (“Social Media”).”
According to recent statistics, there are almost 2.6 billion people on social
media (Hainla). Experts estimate
that every year for the next 5 years, over 5 million people will join social
media (“Number of Social Media”). The average internet user has more than five
social media accounts (Mandor). On these different platforms there is a wide
range of message types someone could send; Snapchat sends photos, WhatsApp
sends texts messages, Instagram posts picture and Periscope lets people
broadcast video blogs. Between the staggering number of social media
subscribers and the range of messaging platforms, it is clear that social media
plays a prevalent role in how people communicate. While in theory, the ability
to stay in constant contact with our friends and loved ones sounds great,
social media is causing the quality of our conversation to go down. This is due
to the lack of focus and investment in others. Social media connects people
more than ever but while our connections increase in quantity, it is lacking in
quality.

            In
our day, people spend a lot of time connecting to each other but a lot of our connecting
is at a distance. A businessman once complained to Sherry Turkle, a sociologist
who studies people’s relationship with technology, that no one talks to each
other in his office. Everyone is too busy spending their potential social
moments on the internet. As the businessman thought about the situation, he
realized that he too is being absorbed by the internet. He then admitted that it
is easier for him to be on his phone then to converse with his colleagues (“The
Flight”). This is not just standard practice in places of work. There seems to
be an unwritten rule about being in public; whether a restaurant,
transportation, or even while waiting online at a convenience store, that one
should be on their phones to avoid any confrontation. Even worse, it is not
uncommon for parents to ignore their children because they are preoccupied with
their cell phone (“Stop Googling”). One of the issues of social media is that
online we are popular and we are talking to a lot of people, but in reality, it
is not so. This is destroying our connections where they count the most, the
real world.

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            Meaningful
dialogue requires two things, presence and empathy. Now a day, when people have
time to themselves they no longer use it to think, they spend their time using social
media. There was a study done to see how long people would be able to sit and
think. It was discovered that people preferred to give themselves minor
electric shocks the suffer through 15 minutes of silence (“Stop Googling”).  Thinking stimulates growth, it helps us form
coherent and logical ideas. When we do not think but just respond we are not
present in our conversation. This lack of being present creates dialogue
without depth.  If our conversations are
not meaningful then they are not really connecting us (“Stop Googling”). Once
we are not connected to each other we begin to lose our empathy since we no
longer are relating to others. It is no wonder why in a study of college
students who use social media, according to a study had a 40 percent decline in empathy (“Stop Googling”).  When we communicate with each other without
empathy we are not connecting.

Empathy is the key to creating a connection between two people. The Merriam
Webster dictionary defines empathy as “the
action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously
experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another (“Empathy”).”
Understanding others is how we become closer to people, that is how we become
connected. When people lose empathy, their relationships do not stimulate deep
connection. If people do not have a deep bond then they are only connected
superficially.  When people connect
superficiality and no longer relate to each other, it could cause them to
dehumanize others. Monica Lewinsky, in a Ted talk in 2015, spoke about how
social media destroyed her life. When the scandal with her and the president
became public there was no modern day social media, there were only comment
sections on news websites.  Lewinsky
spoke about how even in that primitive form of social media were still able to
say vicious things in public forms about her. She spoke about how she
considered suicide and fell into a deep depression because of this public
beratement. In our time the comment section on news websites would not even be
considered public compared to forums like Facebook and Twitter (Lewinsky). There are unfortunately countless
cases of people’s lives being destroyed because of cyberbullying. Social media
can become a catalyst for people to bully others. When we see people on a
screen it can lead to us visualizing others as just colors on a screen. Without
empathetic connecting people do not feel that they are talking about a real
person. Not connecting to others can lead to this dehumanization. Therefore,
social media does not seem to connect us.

            When analyzing anything one must
look at the positives to determine whether the negative effects should hold
back people from using it. Social media is a public platform which and makes
things visible to billions of people. With this many eyes watching, it has
never been easier to fundraise for an organization. Lev-Hatorah, a school I
once attended, raised 600 thousand dollars in twenty-four hours due to a social
media campaign. Lev-Hatorah is not an anomaly, every day there are hundreds of
very worthy organizations appealing succefully for money. Without social media,
their message would not have been as wide spread and would not have made as
much money. The famed ALS ice bucket challenge raised over 100 million dollars
for research and people who suffer from ALS (Wolff-Mann). Just as social media can raise negative awareness, when
used right it can spread positive social awareness. In recent news, there is a
movement called #metoo. This movement’s goal is to make people aware of how
unfortunately common sexual misconduct is. This movement has led to the ousting
of many public figures who would have otherwise gotten away with their crimes.

Also, #metoo helped a lot of women who have been sexually abused to be
emotionally supported by an online community of people who can they can relate
to. This shows how social media can help people connect to others.

            The goal of social media is to
connect people. David Ginsberg and Moira Burke are researchers who study the
effects of social media on its users. In a recent report, they reported  a lot of  what goes on in social media lacks depth and
does not make people feel connected and in some cases, lead to depression. They
explain that using social media the wrong way is the issue, not social media in
itself. On social media one can connect with family and friends when they are
not physically present. Also, people can keep in contact with loved ones who they
never get to see, such as relatives who live other countries. The study found
that when someone sees their past connections, like old photos and conversation,
it helped them reconnect with old emotions.  The report found that when someone uses social
media mindlessly can lead to depression, which is the feeling of not being connected
to others. The researchers also discovered if someone used social media in
moderation and used it while they were more aware, the user would feel a
stronger sense of connection (Ginsberg and Burke).

            Social media seems to have the
ability to either damage relationships or connect people. On the connecting
side, social media connects us to old memories and each other. The extreme form
of social media’s connecting power is that social media can spread awareness
and help people connect with a large group of people. Social media’s damaging
side is when it causes conversation to be superficial. This leads to people
becoming less empathetic to each other. Taken to the extreme it can cause a
total lack of empathy and even have people dehumanize each other.  The key to having the positive aspects of
social media is to use it in moderation and with awareness. Social media should
not be the main tool for strengthening a connection, rather just a way of
enhancing existing ones. Too much focus on an online connection brings out its
negative effects. In conclusion, it would seem social media used with having in
a state of awareness would, in theory, connect us. Using social media with
moderation is great in theory but in practice, it might not be so feasible. In
theory no bank vault should ever need to be locked. It would be irresponsible
to leave a bank vault unlocked and guarded with the premise that people will
not steal because stealing is wrong. In fact, no one would even use a bank like
that. It is
not realistic to rely on the masses to not be tempted to steal. Unlike a bank,
we cannot take steps to prevent cyberbullying or the lack of empathy that can
come from social media. We can have all the right mindset when using social
media but in the end, it is like the businessman told Sherly Turkle, it is more
tempting to just use the phone than speak with his coworkers.