If you are reading this it is likely you are doing so by means of social media. Look around right now, how many people do you see head down and locked in to their phone or tablet? Social media is everywhere these days, and increasingly more of our time is devoted to “living” our lives by means of technology, as opposed to actually interacting with people and the world around us in real time. For every minute that we interact online with the internet, it is a minute lost that could have been used to sit with a friend, laugh together, and become absorbed in a moment of true reality instead of virtual reality. As we continue to devote more time each day to the internet, we must ask ourselves about the consequences of these decisions — especially as it applies to real-life human interactions and life experiences that can only occur in the real world.
Social media consequences
Sure, social media can be a lot of fun watching videos and looking at pictures of friends and family, but what are the psychological ramifications when we become consumed with surfing the web instead of interacting with the real world and real humans in real time? Since the internet is still a relatively new platform for researchers to study, we do not have longitudinal data (long-term data collected on people over time) and, as a result, are not entirely certain what personality traits and social skills may be altered and changed as a result of constant social media consumption. Some specific areas researchers will want to examine moving forward include:
- Inter- and intra-personal intelligence. Howard Gardner identifies 8 categories of human intelligence, including intra-persoanl and inter-personal intelligence. Are these categories of information processing and human interaction compromised because of social media interactions (and reduced in-person human interactions)?
- Isolation and related consequences. Many people experience social media in isolation and away from the company of others. Are there long-term mental health costs relating to increased time alone? Are people more susceptible to depression, or other health concerns?
- Stunted life skills development. When we spend more time perusing social media than we do figuring out problems in the real world, many great life skills development moments are missed. Learning how to problem solve, cope with stressful people and situations, and read body language of others are just a few quick examples of experiences difficult to replicate on the internet.
- Verbal communication. Living behind a keyboard allows us to circumvent verbal communication and expression, another very important quality to develop. Learning how to be assertive and speak with confidence are skills we develop by interacting in real time with real people, not hitting the “like” button on social media.
- Artificial data. When we think of all the ways in which we can be fooled on social media, the potential dangers become much more apparent. Cherry picking data from specific people can leave us vulnerable to false consensus, confirmation bias, false expertise, and many more ways in which data can be skewed, leading to assumptions and conclusions not rooted in reality.
As technology advances and the availability of social media expands, increasingly more people are spending their time by means of a virtual existence rather than living in the real world. While we do not know the long-term potential costs for this paradigm shift, early returns show negative trends impacting mental health, life skills development, and overall wellness. Using social media occasionally is one thing, but living most of your life by means of social media can create an entirely different lifestyle and psychological mindset with potential negative consequences.