It is funny to see how social media has turned into mass media and the most unsocial media. Gone are the days where people are online on these sites to connect with each other. Instead now it is infested with highly curated posts. It is no longer real. And with the rise of advertising and so called influencers, insta-celebrities, and content creators, it’s now all about content and monetizations. And if we are not one of them, we are nothing but consumers of such endless stream of contents. It’s not unlike sitting on the couch watching TV mindlessly.
When we study about communication in school, we knew that there are one way and two way directions of communicating. When catching up with friends, we used to call them and ask what they have been up to. They would tell in short or long about their lives and we learned what they were up to.
Now with the social media sites, we no longer ask them directly what they have been up to. We could simply check their profile page and there you go. Same results and more efficient, right?
Well not really. This is good for efficiency but human connections are not built on top of efficiency. One thing that differentiate the above is that when we learned about what the other person was up to, that person knows that we now knows about them. Furthermore it can foster reciprocity as the other person can ask back what we are up to in exchange to keep conversation going.
But with social media the other person doesn’t know that we know about what they posted, and conversely if we are the poster we don’t know exactly who gets to know what we are up to unless they leave a comment or like the post.
So the problems with this are two fold. First as an observer this doesn’t foster conversation. We know what they were up to then what? Sending a like and that’s it. Leaving a comment may or may not result in a reply anyway. And the nature of online comments are that it is usually tied to the topic of the post. When comments go off topic and drag too long it’s better to move into chat. Yet too often than not, it usually stales there, for the reason I will discuss shortly below.
On the poster’s perspective, posting something and having others know what we have been up to sounds a bit self centered. Imagine this in a conversation. We approach a friend and starts a conversation out of nowhere by telling what we were doing yesterday unasked. Maybe the other person would just nod and give a thumbs up and continue with whatever they are doing. This really doesn’t sound like a good example of good social skills.
Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People put it very nicely, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Now let’s say you actually managed to get people interested in your post by commenting. Do we reply to each of them? Sure no problem if there are one or a few comments, but when we have quite a large number of followers and comments it will take so much time and effort to respond to them all, moreover when some want to converse by replying more. Sometimes it may be easier to just cut the reply short and move on.
Also, have you ever been talking to someone in person which then weirded out when they made a comment about an activity or something that you didn’t share with them because you either forgot that you posted it online or you forgot that this person follows you online but didn’t leave any reaction to your post. This can make you wonder what else they have been seeing on your feed and also risk making them feel stalkerish.
Not only that, by already seeing about them online even though it is probably highly curated and have a lot of details not presented, we may feel knowing much about them already so there are nothing else to talk about when conversing in person.
This is the core of the problem of what makes people socially disconnected on the so called social media, that a study by University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania concluded that teens using social media are 3 times more likely to feel isolated. Social media use is also linked to loneliness and depression in another study.
As someone who was active in the era of Internet chat and forum boards prior to the rise of Facebook and mobile based social media apps, to me it seems that instant messaging and group video conference are what is supposed to be what we call a social media. That means platforms like Zoom, discord, IRC, Whatsapp and the likes can be the next social media that brings back social aspect in actualities. While shifting our perception of Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok and the likes into Entertainment category, as what they have been becoming now.