ABU(Senior group) Excellent Work
Promoting a Social Life or Social Isolation?
Lebanon Rola Damaa (45, Female )
Advances in communications over the past decade have been so fast-paced and concerning that we could not keep up. Today, it is possible to communicate with anyone, anywhere – whether through voice, video or text.
Questions about the negative implications of social media on social life, and the potential social isolation and distancing between community members they create, seem oxymoronic at first. One might say that the purpose of social media can be derived from the very name: that social media are an extension of personal and social relationships between members of the same community separated by distances or other barriers on the one hand, and between members of different communities who engage in human interaction through social media on the other.
Despite the impressive outcomes of social media, they still enable living in a virtual rather than the real world, without direct contact with others. This virtual world is beginning to take up substantial space in our everyday life. We communicate daily with numerous people through text conversations without seeing them or their reactions, regardless of their reactions’ honesty. Through Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, we communicate with people we know and those we do not, sharing with them our thoughts and opinions on general and private matters without previously having anything in common. The exchange may be limited to a single sentence and may end there, reducing those people to a name, whether real or made up, but a name all the same, added to our friend list. We may meet one day – or not – but what is certain is that the meeting will be different from our meeting in the virtual world.
Facebook and other social media have become a platform for people who live within close range to get together without actually meeting for long stretches of time. It is not difficult to notice that social visits – social obligations – or visits between friends and family have significantly declined.
Once, various social occasions forced members of a small milieu to visit each other. But interaction is now limited to a telephone call or expressing congratulations or condolences with a few words posted on social media. This is of course relative and varies by environment, age and social media savvy.
It is ironic that the social media advances which made people’s lives easier and more time-efficient in many ways did not translate into better and stronger social relationships. Social media are time-consuming: we use them to meet and have conversations, but have no time to get together and participate in social engagements. Moreover, the most frequent justification when asking someone why you have not seen them in so long is lack of time. This goes to show that we have become prisoners of the virtual world to which we limit ourselves for talking with friends and family or simply viewing or commenting on their pictures by expressing our admiration, love or longing. It is as though we enjoy this game of communicating from behind a curtain that relieves us from direct face-to-face contact.
One should also note the possible exaggeration of reactions or comments on social media, and that exaggeration may be positive or negative. Lack of face-to-face contact with interlocutors allows for freedom in expressing one’s opinion, no matter how blunt, brash or shocking; the remove emboldens us since we know we will not receive a direct reaction. Tele-communication might make some more honest and make others resort to lying, fabrication and hyperbole. In neither case do social media help build healthy social relations founded on realistic bases that do not change with the form of communication. The latter are build through personal treatment and interactive, reciprocal human and community relationships. Social media are slowly creating separate worlds that revolve around the individual.
The risk of social isolation can be detected in the example of a family whose members, of all ages, use social media as direct contact between them dwindles. They preoccupy themselves with trivialities on these sites while each member’s problems accumulate and emerge successively. Family members are now solely interested in involving their friends, through social media, in everything that happens with them and recording these events in sound, image or both, without them having any significance in terms of personal relationships. In parallel, the negative impact is seen in the isolation of the family members and lack of focus on fundamental issues concealed by the superficialities they are occupied with, thus undermining their intimate and existential bonds.
Although a symbol of freedom, a password on every mobile phone is also a symbol of the family members’ isolation. Social media’s control over the family’s everyday life has led to a form of dysfunction in the couple’s life and in relationships between men and women due to the psychological distancing between them and the emergence of doubt due to excessive interest in social media and the abundance of virtual relationships.
Another important issue takes up considerable space on social media, especially with the innovation of smart phones: the great interest in image, or the hysteria of picture-taking. Pictures are the most common form of exchange on social media. The focus on taking pictures in ongoing throughout the day and covers everything that a person does in their daily life. These are posted on social media to be seen by those who are concerned and not. Thousands of pictures are viewed and then replaced by others, without having any effect other than taking up our time and attention and flooding cyberspace with images that we will have no time to revisit. Pictures were once an important aspect of a person’s life since they captured a special or historical moment in time.
Interest in pictures on social media is not limited to sending or sharing them; gatherings with family and friends have become sessions for taking pictures and exchanging them in that same sitting. This is the ultimate contradiction of social media: they have become a means for social estrangement and isolation.
Social media are even used during face-to-face communication when there is no need to bridge distances. What is ludicrous is the fact that they are used for entertainment when the purpose of these friend and family gatherings is recreation, sharing news and communicating up close.
Social media have truly eliminated the distances and barriers that undermined the durability of long-distance communication. They contributed to the perpetuation of a form of social life, even if virtual and indirect, between members of distant communities. But they have also created distances and estrangement between members of the same community or milieu. This social isolation is tangible today: each person is in a world of their own, especially if they already possessed anti-social, reclusive tendencies.
Despite the great benefit of social media to people’s lives, there is a need to step back a little into direct human relationships and to a simpler, unmasked social life which is irreplaceable. The virtual world cannot sustain a healthy normal life. The adverse implications will only worsen and become more visible eventually, unless we pay attention to what is actually happening to social relationships and the swift evolution of social websites forcing us to catch up without examining our true interests and psycho-social needs, especially that communication is a basic human requirement.