Saturday, June 25, 2011

Social media reveals our anti-social tendencies

On the blog of a nice person (who left a comment here on my blahg*) is this post where she pondered whether smart phones and text messaging and Facebook, etc., is creating loners who interact primarily through devices and don't call others or visit others in person.

I left a comment wherein I posited that this era of "social media" with the suggested incongruity of being "connected" but not connecting was not having a transformative effect. People who essentially forsake face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) contact and dwell on that touchscreen device are ones who likely would have been what would be considered "loners" in an earlier time, and people who want to visit or call will still visit or call. The technological advancements have merely enabled those who didn't necessarily care for the requirements of the old days.

Bear in mind: Some loners are genuine misanthropes, but some are merely people with busy schedules or who do not wish to spend time with those in their immediate vicinity (perhaps because they live in place where most others are not like them). Or maybe they're shy in person. There could be any number of reasons.

But people are whoever they are, irrespective of technology. New avenues offered by advancements therein only reveal what we secretly were before.


And now, a personal reflection that influenced that conclusion:

As a shy kid (who moved many times) growing up in the pre-internet age I spent a fair number of after-school afternoons by myself. The thing was: I was perfectly content; I was good at keeping myself occupied and entertained. I'm not saying I never wished I had others to play with, but having spent time at school with others and not quite hitting it off I somehow knew it was better to be alone and do what I wanted rather than just go along with what others were doing.

I never fell in with the "wrong crowd" because I didn't fall in with a crowd.

I can only imagine how differently that time in my life could have been had I the devices and web-connectivity we have today. It's entirely possible I could have made friends . It's equally likely I could have encountered molesters or scam artists. But the point is not whether the internet is good or bad—obviously it's both simultaneously—but for me it probably would have been merely some other way of occupying some free time instead of watching cartoons or racing Hot Wheels in the backyard.

Certainly it would have influenced me, but I don't believe it would have utterly altered my core personality.

At later times in my life I did develop friendships with people whom I genuinely did want to spend time in their physical presence. But those tended to be people where either school or work or some scheduled activity mandated contact, and thus hanging out afterward was simple; we were already together and we simply didn't part.

Now that our paths have diverged it takes more effort to coordinate schedules and get together in person, there's a lot of people with whom there'd be no contact without the quasi-maintenance facilitated through these online resources. One could argue those aren't "real" relationships, and I wouldn't bother trying to refute that (although it does not imply tacit agreement with the premise). Even among the people I do see it tends to be only a few times a year (if that).

In short, I'm not the shy kid I was, but I still don't feel any compulsion to go out of my way to socialize in person or on the phone. What I do of that I do enjoy but the rest of the time when I don't engage in that it's not because of Facebook; I'd simply know even less about people I know (or at least knew at some point). I wouldn't pick up the phone to call any more than I do.

It's simply who I am.


I'm not suggesting Facebook and its ilk on the social media side are good (nor am I saying they're bad); I'm saying that if nobody thought interacting in that forum was at all worthwhile it never would have caught on and gotten millions of people involved in it; there was some innate element of our personality to which the notion, at least in theory, had to appeal. (And for many, that appeal proved to be nothing more than novelty that wore off, but we'll get into the folly of that some other time.)

(In my case, that appeal started from the desire to get other people to stop hounding me, but I presume for others it was due to other reasons.)

Before we had smart phones to occupy our moments of waiting in line or other bits of "downtime" we weren't necessarily gregariously striking up conversations with the strangers around us; we were simply standing around, bored and not talking to each other.

Technology doesn't change who we are at the core; it merely allows for parts of us that previously had no outline to come to the surface.

For those whose phones aren't ringing, please remember: The fact that I am not calling doesn't mean I don't care; it means I'm not really inclined to call. As I pretty much always have been.


* Note to readers: If you leave a comment, I will make an effort to visit your site. We loners need to support each other.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I think you are spot on. It seems social media (for the moment) is merely altering behavior, but is having little affect on personality, temperament, nature or biology. Although I consider myself to be fairly tech savvy, and have always had a fair talent working with computers, I was certainly reluctant to jump on the Facebook/Twitter bandwagon. Why was this technology different from anything before it? I just didn’t get it.

    Or did I? Perhaps there was a bit of resentment toward the masses’ newfound facility and mastery over the internet. Perhaps I saw the early competitive popularity contest and mass narcissism and thought it wasn’t for me. Whatever the cause, I now find myself two steps behind the curve--forever a non-trendsetter with lack of vision.

    Some things never change. -lol

  3. Great Post Doug!!! I surely agree with your point of view. May be the social media is providing an aid to connect and network with our acquaintances which otherwise would have been difficult. However, I wonder if the constant beeping of the phone, checking and replying to text messages and Facebook comments when in meetings or get togethers is impacting our eye to eye contact and disrespecting other person's time and presence? Do we feel when spending exclusive couple hours chatting with one friend that we are out of the loop on updates about the masses (multiple friends)?
    Btw, I have been a shy and reserved personality all my life until a year after I came to US. I have had very small circle of friends and had gone through pretty much the same experience that you have been. But if anyone sees me today, they will never know that I was a shy person 'once upon a time' :)

  4. Thanks, Anjita and Brian, for acknowledging this (even though blogs are so outdated in the online world--but let's not get into that).

  5. One of my "daughters" recently told me that she uses Facebook to keep track of people she wants to keep at "arm's length." I thought that was very funny.

    "Social media" isn't. At least for me.


So, what do you think?