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Tania is currently the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Hudsucker, and Senior Editor at the Nashville, Tennessee based PopCulture.com. With past writing and editing credits with Womanista, Quietly, the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and NBC Newsvine, she is currently a member of Indianapolis based, Society of Professional Journalists — one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. that promotes and represents journalists. She is an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley and baseball fan as well as a lover of pancakes and fine cheeses, film, and music. Tania is a Hoosier at heart with a passionate wanderlust for always traveling and giving back to those in her community. She is currently studying at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Follow Tania on Twitter: @westlifebunny.

Is Social Networking Making Us Antisocial?

Today the media is not what it used to be. Communication in the past was simple and meaningful. Before the internet there were limited sources of information we had to rely on. The culture was then adapting to a limited mass media market, as was the limitation imposed on our intellect. However, the reality today is entirely different. The last few years of the internet have exploded into quite an innovative way of mass socialization amongst users with sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, dating sites like Zoosk or eHarmony; you name it, these social networking sites have become minute by minute communication necessities for millions of people.

Image Credit: Johnny Valley/cultura/Corbis

The social media explosion on the Internet is setting new rules for all parts of the society. Every day someone joins a social network in hopes to connect with another user but it is drawing concerns amongst many that all that precious screen-time is actually diminishing the time we spend communicating face-to-face. Social networking has, obviously, seen the largest increase in the past ten years of any online activity. Social networking has revolutionized the way we interact with the internet and with other users.

While people have dramatically integrated social networking tools into their lives, it must be noted that true social skills are taught and understood primarily through interacting with our peers face-to-face but the persistent developments in technology, electronics and social networking run the risk of socially alienating the vast majority of people turning them inward and away from one-on-one interaction. Technology has advanced so quickly in these past years and has found many of us bouncing from one electronic device to another, back and forth, throughout the day. In some ways it appears our social developmental skills are being stunted with such advancements.

study from this past March in Developmental Psychology hints that multitasking in the digital form through social media can leave today’s children socially incompetent. Our social development is one of the key components in emotional intelligence which is simply put by psychologists as the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. In some facets, it’s as though we’re heading into a generation of becoming socially awkward.

Like everything else there are, and always will be proponents and opponents of any new technology, and hence social networking has advantages and disadvantages depending on how one looks at it. Associated with the pros and cons of social networking are also the accompanying questions and concerns as far as their role in today’s society is concerned and complaints of the vulnerability to phishing for personal information. With the way our world is progressing and constantly evolving, it’s almost like a time capsule we’re preserving for future generations to look back and study upon. Social media is a great tool and is remarkable in how we can connect so easily and conveniently in the virtual moment we need to with the potential for greater cultural awareness, greater potential for networking contacts and connecting with resources, almost instantaneous communication. Yet as I’m growing older, I’m realizing how much the online interactive technology is really taking away from us and our time in the real world. Are we spending enough time being social in our regular day-to-day lives or are we becoming antisocial?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the advancements in technology but at the same time it’s highly ironic that the very technologies designed to connect each other through social platforms are alienating us in some sense from those we see daily on a “social” basis. An infographic from Schools.com states how 24% of people surveyed in a recent poll said that they had missed an important moment because they were too busy trying to share those moments on a social network. Admittedly online communication is not the same as being face-to-face or speaking on the phone; the tone of voice, facial expressions, and the actual time invested in that relationship is often neglected, misread, or overlooked.

Image Credit: Facebook (James Leynse/Corbis) and Twitter (David Brabyn/Corbis)

The same infographic states that two in five people spend more time socializing online than they do face-to-face and that’s a statistic that could only increase over the years, especially with the way our modern technologies are developing. It could end up becoming quite a reclusive attitude with society. Already, Americans spend 441 minutes on Facebook Mobile with another 391 minutes on the Facebook website, each and every month. That’s a lot of minutes! Obviously not as much as John Henry Timmins IV’s film, The Cure for Insomnia which runs at 87 hours, but could our sociological patterns become of such antisocialism?

We’ve become so engrossed in technology and particularly our Smartphones, that at times we become quite oblivious to our surroundings. You see it all the time with drivers and last year, a woman in Pennsylvania told CBS News how humiliated she was when she fell into a fountain at the Berkshire Mall because she was busy texting. The security camera footage of that video soon went viral on YouTube and Cathy Marrero, the victim of her Smartphone, said how dangerous it can be to text and walk, or even text and drive. Users become so engaged in their social life on the phone that they’re not engaging with the outside world and are missing out on key elements of how life carries itself out.

When I was an eight year-old, I remember riding my bike down the street almost every day after school. I was the kind of kid who would climb trees, monkey bars, race other kids and get into adventures in the woods behind my house. It was a few months ago when I saw a group of children on a field trip, no younger than ten years of age accompanied by their teacher, march into the Apple Store. Their little faces lit up as they all darted towards the devices and gadgets, pressing buttons and comparing what they held in their hands to their peers. It was interesting to see but then as I returned home that evening, I discovered my neighbor’s children sitting on their porch with both of them absorbed in their phones. There was that whitish-blue hue bouncing off their faces and I thought to myself, is this what it has come down to?

Are we that reliant on technology to connect when really, we were able to do it all along with our own communicative social skills? There was a time when my mom would tell me when to watch TV and when to turn it off so I could go out and play or finish my homework, but in recent years technology is constantly streaming and readily available for us. There’s such a convenience now at our fingertips that it makes you wonder where will we be in another ten years? The world is getting closer every day and everyone wants to be connected and our world is moving more towards “information streams” where information comes to users rather than users having to make effort to get the information. The problem that arises is of information overload and security.

The social experience in the offline world definitely took a beating in these recent years with businesses taking a major hit from the advancements of technology. Some say Blockbuster closed down due to their competition from online services like Netflix and other online streaming sites, while others say it was strictly poor strategic planning but whatever the case, you can’t help but wonder. Especially in the case of bookstores who suffered their own losses due to the invention of the Kindle and e-books. Our modern society is receding into an online world and we’re becoming less social because of it. It could be because of the economy and the recession many saw with their jobs becoming more demanding and taking time from the social life, but it’s perfect timing for online businesses and social media to fill that void.

I understand social media is the perfect tool for connecting with others instantly given the constraints and restraints of time. Trust me, I know what it’s like as I’m someone who uses it every day to connect and interact with my friends, and my perspectives and concerns on social media have not changed. One of my best friends taught in Spain last year and Skype, Facebook, instant message – they all helped in keeping us closer. Same goes for my other best friend who I’m able to communicate with through online mediums when time permits, even though he has continuously expressed to me how he can’t stand Facebook and Twitter and every mobile application you can think of.

Some may even say social media is a great tool for curing their voids and loneliness. The infographic mentions of the participants who took part in the survey that 39% of them spend more time socializing online than face-to-face; 20% prefer texting or communicating online than face-to-face; and 33% are likely to speak to someone new online than in person. In some ways, you could say social media helps to not just boost our confidence but raises esteem and banishes insecurities.

If you feel you’re not being social enough, get off the computer and turn off your phone. It’s the simplest thing to do and though it may be hard, there’s so much of a life out there for you to see and experience! Just like you’d focus on your health and diet, it’s important to keep everything you do in moderation and the focus should be on “real” communication. Wouldn’t you rather experience life than speak about it a tweet? It’s vital and healthy to focus on how to be social and not how to do social. The future of social networking looks very promising but still has to deal with the social concerns associated with it.

As the charming Ferris Bueller puts it, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” 

Connect with Tania Hussain on Twitter and Google+!

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