Social networking provides low quality interactions
// Natahsha Prakash

“Instead of kids going out and making their own moments, they’re just taking these images and living vicariously through other people’s moments … They don’t actually embody any of those things. They just emulate.”

So ranted popular singer/songwriter Drake in a blog post addressing Tumblr. The issue with social networking sites (SNS) does not lie with social networking itself, but more so on the fast-paced glossing over of issues and the importance of self-image. Facebook is an outlet, supposedly aiding the social lives of millions – but is it really? Is your real identity being compromised for mere online popularity, and what impact is our addiction to social networking having on society?

Traditional online forums are discussion based, linking individuals to virtual communities that share the same interests. Forum users can be elitist and intimidating, and the topics can have a narrow focus, one of the many reasons why people are more likely to interact over social networking sites. Social networking is far more accessible, which explains the wide range of online services that are available, including thousands of Facebook applications and multi-network posting applications.

Forums and SNSs also diverge when it comes to the virtual avatar. An avatar on a discussion forum is secondary to the insight the user has to offer the discussion. SNSs, like Facebook, put the importance on the user, merging the self and the avatar. Users portray idealized versions of themselves – a person who is more confident, intelligent, artistic or attractive – whether there is substance to these portrayals or not. People interact in a similar fashion: political views and opinions are extensions of the self, degenerating a deeper understanding of an issue into a “like” of someone’s 100-character interpretation.

People are allowing social networking to control their views. As an alternative to researching, many people base their judgements and knowledge on the opinions of their online peers.

Hitwise analyst Heather Hopkins notes, “Facebook has become the fourth largest source of traffic for media; behind Google, Yahoo and MSN. The moment there is breaking news, i.e., Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, swine flu, the Blackberry breakdown, or even the first snowfall – your Facebook page is littered with the same information.”

Farhad Manjoo, author of True Enough agrees: “Facts can’t find us anymore – instead, we find our own political ‘facts’ in the corners of the Internet, like our friends’ Facebook feeds.”

Alice Mathias from the New York Times wrote, “Facebook is yet another form of escapism … the site is popular largely because it enables us to indulge our gazes anonymously.” Studies are unable to find what it is exactly that is so addicting about the use of social media and why it appeals so strongly to the University student demographic – but the impact is significant.

A study published in Cyberpsychology entitled “Behaviour and Social Networking” revealed that two-thirds of reported students used electronic media while in class, studying, or doing homework, which had negative effects on their GPA – “reducing it between 0.05 and 0.07 points.”

In the Time article, “What Facebook Users Share: Lower Grades”, Aryn Karpinski reveals, “Maybe [Facebook users] are just prone to distraction. Maybe they are just procrastinators.”

It is the 17-24 age group, dubbed “generation next”, that have been reported to have addictive tendencies to SNS. However, researchers from the University of Melbourne believe “it’s in the hands of students, in consultation with parents, to define priorities and decide how to spend their time.” Mathias states, “Facebook did not become popular because it was a functional tool … Instead, we log into the Web site because it’s entertaining.” There is no formal use for Facebook; it’s for entertainment.

Social networking is at the fingertips of 2,095,006,005 connected people. Fast-paced online networking opens up horizons and new opportunities for individuals to engage their word. The Internet, as well as Facebook, should be a tool to connect, not to replace, reality. It is used for friendships, but also to connect to the world, information, and ideas. The fact that Facebook doesn’t breed a smarter, more connected generation is tragic.

// Natahsha Prakash, Web Editor
// Illustration by Chris Dedinsky

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com