The introduction of technology has transformed human interactions in ways that were previously not thought possible. Information can be shared among people in real-time and people are interconnected. However, the type of interconnectedness that technology offers cannot substitute person to person interactions. This paper examines the issue of technology and social connectivity by reviewing the implications of social media, historical trends in socialization in America, the impact of the television, and that of smartphones. These segments support the general assumption of the paper that technological advancements have promoted individuality and disinterest in social activities, which has led to society disconnecting.
Hampton cites a study by the International Centre for Media and the Public Agenda which indicates that about 75 percent of all teenagers spend their time glued to their phones. The same group of teenagers experienced a feeling of isolation when they turned off their devices. This type of situation illustrates the changing tide where social interconnectivity is largely based on online communication. However, Hampton notes that even when connected via technological platforms there is a lack of personal relationship. Humans are social beings and technology cannot sufficiently replace personal interactions. Hobson (2017) posits that extensive use of social media and other technological channels of communication are creating a society where people are becoming increasingly lonely. Primack et al. write that social media has led to a situation where people lack fulfilling relationships, a sense of true engagement, and social belonging. At the same time, many people who use technological platforms find themselves substituting face to face relationships with online ones. Further, exposure to highlight filtered and unrealistic depictions of life on electronic platforms have made people feel as if others are more connected and happier than they are, which may exacerbate loneliness and promote further isolation (Primack et al.). It is no surprise that the findings in the study by Primack et al. show that people who spent more than two hours on social media platforms felt twice as isolated as those who spent less than an hour. The link between social media and isolation is not clearly established in the study, however, it is likely that isolation promotes social media use and vice versa. When one feels lonely, they use such technological platforms to engage with others, and using this platforms fosters the sense of isolation. Bergland quotes Elizabeth Miller (a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburg of UPMC) who says that in some cases, isolation pushes people to social media. Miller adds that, the use of social media does not seem to alleviate the feeling of isolation.
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A study by McPherson et al. examined the perception of people with regards to their core networks. The study is a follow up to a similar one that was conducted in 1985. The survey by McPherson et al. was done in 2004. The findings of their study show that the number of people who indicated that they had no one to talk to on matters that are important increased threefold (McPherson et al., 353). At the same time, the overall size of networks that people had reduced by about a third (353). The results were bigger for people who had a network size of more than two (358). In the initial study, the number of confidants that a person had was about three. But in the 2005 survey, the modal response shows that most people have no confidants (353). The loss of touch occurred in both familial and non-familial groups. The non-familial ties showed a greater decrease than familial ones (353).
Knack (391) argues that in recent times, changes have occurred in the society that has created a situation where people are more independent than they were in the past. Furthermore, people have developed individual goals and interests are more self-serving than before. Some of the reasons include an increase in population, mobility, and urbanization. In “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” Putnam examines the decline in social and civic activity Among Americans. Putnam (65) writes that in the last segment of the twentieth century, the number of people participating in organizations reduced by about 10-20 percent. The rate of active involvement in voluntary associations and clubs decreased at an even greater percentage (65). Putnam (21) holds the opinion that a reduction in social connectedness negates social capital, which can lead to negative consequences and a reduction in civic benefits. Social capital according to Putnam (21) refers to the connections that occur among people, the resultant social networks and the trust and reciprocity that arises from the entire process. According to Putnam (21-22) capital bonding which arises among few people can have undesirable consequences unlike social capital whose results include reciprocity, trust, and connectedness. A decline in social capital has deprived many Americans of the benefits that come from social capital such as a good political, psychological, social, and economic outcomes.
Some of the factors that influence social disengagement, include education, gender equality, geographic mobility, financial worries, religion, work obligations, and home ownership (249-250). On top of that, Putnam (250) singles out the use of technology and the mass media. According to Putnam (233), entertainment and news have been increasingly personalized. He writes of the 1900s, a period during which peoples used to assemble to listen to news and music. He compares that era to the current period where people can access their music, news, and videos through individualized setups like cable and satellite TV, and the internet (233). Putnam (233) adds that because of televisions, people can sit at home and watch TV shows at the comfort of their home, which is a contrast to the early twentieth century where entertainment was usually offered in public spaces. The television set was one of the fastest home appliances to reach 75 percent adoption among American household with just seven years. Comparatively items like fridges, telephones, and cars took 23, 67, and 52 years respectively. Putnam (235- 237) points out data that shows that the number of people who watch television for news has been on a decline. The same trend can be seen in newspapers where readership figures are on a decline. Putnam (237) says that persons who watch television because of news tend to be civic minded. The same goes for newspaper readers. Newspaper readers and those who watch TV for news (regardless of social variables) tend to vote frequently, have more knowledge of public affairs, and participate in community initiatives (238-239). Therefore, the decline in news viewership and readership has occurred concurrently with reduced civic participation. While news readership and viewership figures keep on decreasing, the same cannot be said for the average amount of time spent watching TV across the US. In 1950, Americans spent about 4.5 hours watching TV. By 1995, the figure had grown to more than 7 hours, which means that people are using their TV’s for other purposes than news (240).
As more households adopt more than one televisions, the number of time spent watching TV alone rises as people can choose what to watch at a time that is convenient for them. About one half of Americans watch TV by themselves (242). Couples on average spend three or four times less talking to each other as compared to watching television (242). Furthermore, 55 percent of Americans take time to talk to family before bedtime while about 80 percent of them prefer to spend their pre-bedtime watching television. The data presented by Putnam shows that there is a relation between civic engagement and socialization and the increased use of television as more of an entertainment medium and less of an information source. A lot of TV content consumption results in lesser participation in public meetings and local organization by up to 40 percent and letter writing to Congress by about 10-15 percent (248). TV also reduces the number of time people spend outside. People find themselves spending their time indoors in front of the TV instead of going out to greet friends, family, and neighbors (253).
In recent times, smartphones have become the primary driver of antisocial behavior. Richardson et al. (1) write that excess, and unregulated use of smartphones can cause affective, behavioral, and social problems, which they refer to as problematic smartphone use.
For instance, Richardson et al. (5) find that an obsession with taking selfies can lead to a disconnect between people and their surroundings as well as social life. Selfies contribute to narcissism, self-interest, and self-admiration. Another study by Rotondi et al. shows that the use of smartphones leads to a desire to be connected at all times. When a person is without their device, they experience what the researchers refer to as absent present. This state occurs even when people are with others, and it diverts their focus from face to face interactions. As a result, people withdraw from immediate relations. Thus, even though people spend time with others, using smartphones has a negating effect on the quality of face to face interactions. The findings in the research by Rotondi et al. confirm the researchers’ assumptions that time spent with friends is less valuable when the persons use smartphones.
The effects of technology on socialization are not limited to isolation. As more people become disconnected from each other, the rates of loneliness are set to rise. The National Health Service (2015) indicates that lonely people have a 30 percent risk of dying prematurely. At the same time, more people will suffer from anxiety and depression (Lin et al. 324).
The type of interconnectedness that technology offers cannot substitute person to person interactions. The extensive use of technological channels of communication is creating a society where people are becoming increasingly lonely, and they lack fulfilling relationships, a sense of true engagement, and social belonging. Changes have occurred in the community that are concurrent with technological advancements, and they have created a situation where people are more independent than they were in the past. People also focus on individual goals and interests. Technologies like televisions, smartphones, and social media platforms have altered the way contemporary people interact with each other.
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