Does Social Media Make Us Less Social in Real Life?
Guest Post by Kate Searby
As I mentioned in my previous blog post about SXSWi, much of the conference’s buzz was focused on mobile, location-based, real-time technology. There is no question that social media plus mobile has changed the way people meet and engage, but I never imagined the scale until I landed in Austin. Like most of my fellow SXSWers, I used my smart phone to stay up to date on all things SXSWi. In fact, I used it in ways that I had never before used a mobile phone. For example, I tried out the new group texting applications (such as GroupMe) throughout the day to stay in touch and make plans with over a dozen colleagues and friends at the conference. I tapped Twitter and Facebook to keep tabs on all sorts of people and events, from panels/keynotes to food trucks to where comedian Aziz Ansari was performing a free “pop-up” show that evening. I enlisted my smart phone to take notes on the conference sessions I was attending after I realized that my spiral notebook made me look like a dinosaur. My smart phone also served as an on-the-go map to help me find my way around the city and from panel to panel. Without my smart phone, I would have been lost in Austin – literally and figuratively.
There’s no question that the convergence of social media plus mobile made my trip to Austin smoother and more convenient than it was last year when I didn’t have a smart phone. I met a lot of people and attended many fascinating and fun events that I would not have otherwise. However, I can’t help but wonder what I missed by having my nose glued to my phone’s screen for so much of the visit. I wonder if I would have been even more engaged at SXSWi had I been more present and “in the moment.” After-all, it’s hard to be present when you’re stuck in a constant cycle of checking email, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media websites looking for the next big thing to add to the day’s agenda. If I wasn’t checking the social media sites then I was reading the news from a dozen + apps I have on my phone. And don’t even get me started with what a time suck Words with Friends has become. Have our attention spans become so short that we can’t simultaneously be present both online and off? Has social media made us less social in real life?
My answer is no, social media has not made us less social in real life. On the contrary, it has made me more social than I’ve ever been. I’m constantly making plans and meeting/reconnecting with new people online that carry over to real life. What is making me less social in real life is my smart phone, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Having what is basically a small computer in my pocket at all times is distracting to say the least, but it is dangerous when it becomes so distracting that one loses sight of what’s around him. For example, I’d need two hands to count how many people I saw walk into walls and/or other people at SXSWi because they were so absorbed with whatever they were doing on their smart phones. I love my smart phone as much as anyone else, but I have concluded that our real time relationships with friends and family are eroding due to our obsession with constantly checking email, texts, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. My new resolution is to stop hiding out so much behind social media tools and my smart phone so I don’t miss out on the satisfaction of real time human interaction.
Do you believe that social media or smart phones have made us less social in real life? Please share your thoughts!