Words. They contain power. KAPOW. BOOM. ZING. Some even argue the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body as it contains the power to slash any sword. That’s why it remains necessary for humans to communicate with one another. Social media brings social change, there is not argument about that, but is this change for the better, or for the worse?
Logging onto Twitter, you start browsing through your feed. Favorite a photo here, retweet a motivational saying there. Ooh! An article from BuzzFeed appears, click on that. You start reading the article, and in the side bar you see more listed. You click on one, which leads to another, which leads to another…an hour later, you forgot what a quick five-minute study break composed of as you browsed through all 27 of your social media notifications.
With 9 out of 10 Millennials plugged into social media, Twitter now replaces newspapers and television as a source of news for most people with many journalists tweeting their stories for publicity. Thoughts condense into 140 characters while attention spans also shorten. Want to know just how short attention spans are? Millennials define multitasking as one study found that one out of 10 people under 25 reply to social media notifications during sex. Also, Microsoft found that overall attention spans dropped four seconds over the last ten years from twelve to eight. EIGHT SECONDS thanks to two-thirds of Americans plugging into their smartphones regularly.
A decade ago, only 12% of 18–29 year olds used social media, but now studies show that those individuals with a higher education get involved with social media more than those with a high school education or less. This means social media users understand the difference between a comma and an apostrophe, right?
In addition to shorter attention spans, proper English and grammar have gone out the window. Millennials now use “UR” for “your” or “you’re,” not caring if they are grammatically correct or not. The same applies with the overuse of “2” to mean “two,” “too,” or “to.” Then Millennials stress when they must write a formal email to a potential employer because they don’t know the difference between “your welcome” and “you’re welcome.” Teachers no longer require their students to write in cursive. Some may see this as no big deal, but what happens for signatures? Gone is the significance behind John Hancock’s mighty signature. The Declaration of Independence and other formal, handwritten documents lose their value if people can’t understand the writing because they failed to learn cursive. This generation also thinks quickly so they must write quickly, or else they lose their train of thought. Cursive allows them to keep up with their shorter attention spans as Dr. William Klemm from Psychology Today discovered that “cursive writing helps train the brain to integrate visual, and tactile information, and fine motor dexterity.” This means writing down notes over typing out notes helps us learn better and become more creative.
Researchers only begin to tap into the social media effect on our moods and personalities. UCLA conducted a study in 2008 to learn that people who frequently use the Internet feature fundamentally modified prefrontal cortexes. The quick pace plus constant exposure to social media rewires the brain, a scary thought. Now psychologists focus on Pathological Internet Use, which derives from overusing social media to the point it makes an individual feel lonely, depressed, and anxious.
Thanks to the passive nature of scrolling through a friend’s Facebook page, it leads to the rabbit hole of loneliness and depression. You sit there wondering what the heck you are doing with your life as you see friend after friend (or really acquaintance) get engaged, get married, have a baby, get a dream job, buy a new car, take a fun trip. You begin to stop engaging in your life and live it vicariously through all 1,077 of your Facebook friends, which do you really consider over 1,000 people to be your “friend?”
In a sense, social media brings the world together. High school friends keep in touch as they head off to different colleges, long-distance relationships become easier to manage, and the gap between families spread across the country closes.
Social media users interact with friends online 39 days compared to the 210 days they interact with friends in person a study by the Internet and American Life Project at Pew Research Center found. Most of these in-person interactions occur thanks to plans made via social media. So social media does contain perks.
Yet, when does the line become blurred between online friends and real-life friends? Steven Strogatz from Cornell University discovered that social media makes it harder for people to distinguish the difference between the two. Individuals become so focused on viral relationships they begin to ignore the more meaningful relationships created offline.
Speaking of colleges, 97% of universities use Facebook to recruit students and keep student retention high. Social media sites give incoming students a support system and way to connect with others easily. In fact, you can access nearly any information at your fingertips. This also leads to social media stalking, which changes the dating world. A study by EHarmony found almost half of people admit to checking out their date’s online profile before the date (funny enough, more women admit to doing so then men). It also creates this “in-between” for guys and girls leading to lots of questions. When is it okay to add him on Snapchat? When can I like her post on Instagram? Is it too soon to change our relationship status on Facebook? Instead of sitting and enjoying dinner with the family, people become more concerned about what their crush is up to in the social media world than the conversation at hand.
While social media brings families closer together as they share photos and birthday wishes (the best part about Facebook is it reminds you of your friends’ birthdays), it also brings them apart as it more and more spend time on their phones. One study found an increase from 8% to 34% of families saying they spend less face-to-face time with each another. While social media helps older generations feel more connected as those 74 and older make up the fastest growing age group on social media, people waste time checking Snapchat, tumblr, and Instagram, the most popular sites for Millennials. In July of 2012 alone, Americans spent 121. 1 billion minutes using social media. In fact, nearly half of 18–35 year olds use social media during meals. That means more time with virtual people, less time with real people.
In the end, social media changes society the way the steam engine, telephone, radio, and television did. We must recognize said changes and become wary of the negative effects to prevent them from outweighing the benefits. We can avoid the rabbit hole if we know what to watch out for.
Until then, enjoy the likes, the favorites, the retweets, my online friends.