ABU Otsuki Award
Not a daily substitute, I make an everyday connection - How to Use Social Media
Sri Lanka R.S.N. Karunaratne (46, Female )
Photo: R.S.N. Karunaratne

Humans are genetically wired to be social whether they like it or not and instinctively feel the urge to connect with others. For aeons, social interactions have been the basis of our day to day life. Our interactions with others are based on verbal and nonverbal communications. For those of us who are visually impaired however, nonverbal cues such as body language and eye contact have caused difficulties. Nevertheless, we too as fellow humans host the social need to interact with others in our society and refuse to be isolated.
Of late, new avenues to interact with each other have emerged in addition to the age old means of face to face interaction. Among these, social media, defined in Wikipediaas “Computer-mediated tools that allow people to create, share or exchange information, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks”, top the list. Sighted or non-sighted, people are equally drawn to these sites to keep in touch with each other and express their views. There are said to be approximately two billion active social media users worldwide. The main advantage of virtual online communication is that it is cost and time effective. In addition, one can form new ties and maintain old ones overcoming all geographical obstacles.With web accessibility slowly becoming the norm, visually impaired persons too can engage in online interactions. Sites like “Audio Boom” where speech and sound are the predominant way to communicate as opposed to visual based communication which is widely used on other social media, are more popular among visually impaired persons. With people constantly and instantly keeping in touch with others through social media, one may tend to believe that all users of social media have healthy social lives.
Do social media actually facilitatethe formation of strong ties among their users? Research has shown that social media have been responsible for weakening neighbour hood and community ties which were the backbone of our society. For those of us who are visually impaired, strong community ties are a vital element for our survival. However much we would like to be independent, we always appreciate the help and support of the members of our community. Real life connections are more meaningful to us than online connections. Apparently, while we are able to cultivate a large number of relationships in the virtual community, there is a notable lack of quality in those social connections. We all know the warmth we receive from real life interactions like a smile, hug or even just holding hands. Online interactions can never evoke the feelings that we enjoy from such gestures. The kindness we hear in the tone of voice , the joy we see in the twinkle in the eye, the tenderness we feel in a gentle touch are what strengthens our bonds with others and what makes us human. This taken away, we are no more than robots who have no actual social life.
Furthermore, there is evidence that social media affect the psycho-social functioning of their users in a negative manner. Among the many detrimental factors, addiction, depression and disinhibition stand out. Addiction to social media hampers one’s social life. Just as any other addiction, one first develops a habit of logging on everyday, updating one’s profile and checking the status updates of online friends which eventually develops into a feeling of compulsion to do this incessantly. The more one spends time online, the less time one has for socialising in real life. Depression also has a negative impact on one’s social life. Social media users always strive to project their best and brag about their accomplishments. They rarely post unflattering photos of themselves or reveal their negative traits in their profiles. Those who are fooled by this masquerade develop depressive thoughts by thinking that everyone else is perfect and having a gala time while one is not. In addition, the number of likes and comments one gets supposedly reflects on how much one is accepted by others and therefore affects the level of one’s self-esteem. This lack of confidence in oneself gradually isolates one from society. The concept of disinhibition is now widely associated with social media to refer to the lack of restraint in expressing one’s opinion. Social media users have a tendency to be tactless or outright rude online and say what they may never say in a face to face interaction. This type of action may have real life consequences and end up in social isolation.
Although social media have many cons, they are not void of pros. supporters of social media say that one is able to expand one’s circle of friends through social media and have a productive social life. Moreover, those with introvert tendencies are able to form social connections easily through social media as they do not have thepressure of meeting people face to face. They add that social mediafosters connections among groups of similar taste and interest bringing about a sense of solidarity with “birds of a feather”. Social media also help their users to keep in touch with family and friends they cannot meet regularly, thereby strengthening relationships.
After weighing the pros and cons of social media, we may conclude that social mediaare harmful to one’s social life only if they are used as a substitute for real life interactions. Rather, they should be used as a means to pave the way for real life interactions Then, social media will enrich our social life and keep us away from social isolation. Like any tool, social media too when put to use properly can serve us in a useful manner.


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