Retweet. Comment. Like. Snap. Direct message. Twitter. Facebook. Snapchat. Instagram. The world has certainly changed over the past 10 years, and social media has played a massive role in the transformation. Social network giants have taken over people’s computers, phones, tablets and lives. For all the good that technology can impart on society through the ability to communicate with friends and family, and the quick dissemination of news (hopefully not “fake”), it is imperative that we acknowledge the deleterious effects that social media can have on our youth—and adults for that matter.
With interactive multimedia and mobile communication garnering more attention and taking up more hours in people’s daily lives, it should come as no surprise that concerns have arisen as to where our culture is headed. Spending significant time on social networking sites has the potential to negatively affect emotional intelligence—essentially, one’s ability to identify and comprehend emotions in oneself and other people, and then draw upon this awareness to direct behavior and manage personal relationships. The decline in face-to-face interactions can stifle emotional development and growth in a way that has never been witnessed. Social skills have been reduced to “liking” someone’s meme or commenting on a photograph. Where is the deeper conversation and engagement that can only truly be fostered through real-life, present communication?
The Grand Café in Oxford, U.K. is the oldest coffee house in England, with an establishment date of circa 1650. The coffee shop novelty had a profound influence on the citizens of Oxford, as the coffee stimulant and social environment provided a means of sharing bright ideas and original thoughts that would go on to inspire genius inventions. Nowadays, when you walk into the same coffee shop, it is not uncommon to see young 20-year-old classmates looking down at their phones, swiping right on a dating application or double-tapping a friend’s post. Sure, it might be fun and a way to pass the time, but what about looking up at your peers and engaging with them on an issue just discussed in class? Or perhaps asking your friend how they are coping with a recent family member’s passing and how you can help?
Not only emotional intelligence is threatened by the rise and take-over by social media but also general intellect. Again, there can certainly be benefits to having quick access to the most up-to-date news stories, possibly consuming new information and interacting with diverse populations beyond what one may be experiencing in his or her physical environment. Some researchers have actually suggested that social media can improve verbal and critical-thinking skills. Nevertheless, it can be argued that spending hours upon hours each day swiping up and down on a social network feed is leading to a less-informed and cultured society. Instead of picking up a newspaper to read entire articles (rather than a 140-character quip) or beginning a classic novel that could prove to be great discussion material during a college or job interview, our youth have been exposed to the glamour and excitement of pictures and one-liners. Obsession over distant celebrities and the daily ventures of “friends” (who they often know only on a superficial level) has become all too frequent.
Social media will never die, at least as long as we are around. And I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, suggesting that it will or should falter. However, take it upon yourselves to encourage those around you to live in the moment. Engage with your children, colleagues, mentors and strangers by looking them in the eyes and challenging yourself to escape from behind the touchscreen on your mobile device. You might just find something that you have been missing.
Mr. Williams is manager/sole owner of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the year. Listen to Mr. Williams on Sirius XM126 Urban View nightly 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., EST. Follow on Twitter @arightside.