As technology advances, increasing numbers of people use the Internet daily, and to create and promote social networks. Sites such as Facebook and MySpace have subscribers numbering in the hundreds of millions, and by 2012 the entire population using social networks reached over 1.2 billion (WEF, 2012). Hand-held devices, moreover, allow for networking to occur virtually anywhere. As is obvious, then, people enjoy social networking as a means of expanding personal connections and maintaining those already in place. At the same time, there are many who feel that this enormous shift in human social activity is changing the ways people interact, and not in a good manner. The vast rise of social networking nonetheless continues, and it is likely that the numbers of people engaging in it will only increase.
While it is unreasonable to ignore just how people enjoy and participate in social networking, the reality remains that this form of interaction is actually lessening the value of human contacts. Social networking enables people to meet and interact in virtual scenarios, which translates to little or no literal meeting. Everything occurs in an unreal sphere, from the ways people present themselves to the specific types of interactions they seek, so there is no real foundation to guide human behavior. In traditional social situations, there are consequences attached to behavior, as there are limits; the person pretending to be an expert in a subject is not likely to be seen as such in the real world, where the expertise must be in some way be proven. Similarly, people seeking friendship and romance in the real world are far less enabled to disguise who they really are are than in the world of social networks. Such pretenses occur apart from social networks, but they have less chance of being successful, as real interaction creates demands the virtual realm does not. These potentials for falsehood, moreover, are only one aspect of the experience. In simple terms, since the people met on the networks are distanced, those interacting with them commit less of themselves to the experience. No matter the context, it is not genuine interaction, so there is no need to invest as much of the self as is invested when social encounters are literal. As social networking is not “real” interaction, people are developing new – and less valued – ideas as to who and what other people are.
That social networks are changing human behavior in negative ways may be seen by noting several factors about it. As mentioned, social networking permits users to create virtually any identity they wish to present. While sites like Facebook and Google Plus require the use of real names (WEF, 2012), many others do not, and a user may easily offer their real name while still fabricating their larger identity. Even assuming that most users have no desire to falsify who and what they are, the reality remains that the sheer size of social networking enables inestimable levels of deception. Moreover, this type of deception may be in place for no purpose other than to attract certain types of new connections. The motive does not have to be criminal; what matters is that behavior changes simply because there are opportunities to change it in this way. As society attaches great importance to people representing themselves honestly, behavior then changes because they are now aware of the potential to be misled, and people then become more cautious.
Then, as noted, the social network platforms call for less commitment on the parts of users. Research shows that, as people engage more in social networks, they report that they do not have very strong sense of identity in them (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2011, p. 282). Behavior alters because the users feel no need to give of themselves emotionally to the experience, as opposed to literal interactions. This translates to a lessened value in the interactions themselves, simply because all concerned know that a button on the device can erase the connection. There is also the complex matter of how networking blurs the lines between the public and the private. On the network, the personal message posted to one individual is often available to all the user’s connections (Noor Al-Deen, Hendricks, 2011, p. 284). As users are aware of this, their basic behaviors in sending “personal” messages change because they are facing an audience, and this must also lessen the integrity of the communication.
Lastly, behavior changes for the worse because less time is given to the interactions, and a kind of shorthand replaces the in-depth interaction enabled by literal contact. People on social networks abbreviate ideas, feelings, and statements: “The 140-character approach to communication has established an entirely new way of communicating and curating content across a broad set of personal and professional interests” (WEF, 2012). This being the case, the quality of the interactions must suffer.
Social behavior has always evolved to meet the demands and opportunities of technology, ranging from the telephone to the video conference. This being the case, there can be no “negative” changes from social networking, simply because social behavior is correct as however people choose to engage in it. Moreover, the inescapable fact that people today may interact with unlimited numbers of others and create real relationships with them more than compensates for the minor issues of lessened emotional investment, abbreviated content, and the occasional pretender.
Rebuttal and Conclusion
Even as human social behavior has certainly adapted to changing technology, there are nonetheless standards that are generally accepted as giving meaning to the behavior. In plain terms, human social contact requires depth to be of value, and social networking is unconcerned with depth. On the contrary, it exists to facilitate only topical interactions. Consequently, as so many use the networks, their social behaviors change to adapt to this immense restriction and the quality of interaction is reduced.
- Noor Al-Deen, H. S., & Hendricks, J. A. (2011). Social Media: Usage and Impact. Lanham: Lexington Books.
- Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2011). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
- World Economic Forum (WEF). (2012). Social Networks: Issues Overview. Retrieved from http://reports.weforum.org/