I have accounts on several social networking sites, and spend far too long on them writing my own updates and reading the updates of others. I enjoy doing so, being able to interact with friends, family, and random strangers online in a controlled environment. For someone who works at home, this is a big positive.
However, social networking sites aren’t a wholly positive influence on the world. In fact, if you delve just a little into how they have changed the world you find there are some potentially negative impacts social networking sites are having on society as a whole and each of us as individuals.
The idea of ‘friends‘ was once very simple. If you knew someone, hung out with them regularly, and liked their company then they were a friend. While the people who still fit that description are still your friends, so are the people you have connected with on social networking sites apparently. Whether you talk to them, care about what they’re up to, or have any interest in them whatsoever, they’re still listed as friends.
This has muddied the waters considerably. I know several people who have thousands of friends on social networking sites. Do they really? Or do they in fact have a dozen real friends and hundreds of people they have met once and then added to their Facebook or Google+? I suspect future generations will be unable to distinguish between meaningful relationships and casual acquaintances.
We all like to talk about ourselves or the things which interest us, which is the most basic reason social networking sites work. Those who shy away from doing so are unlikely to be on Facebook or Twitter, or if they are, their accounts will likely be sitting unloved and untouched. But there is passing on important news and telling anecdotes that will interest people, and then there is detailing every single aspect of your life, no matter how dull or uninteresting it may be.
Social networking sites bring out this side in many people, turning them into crashing bores who will detail what they ate for breakfast and the manner in which their body expelled it several hours later. Youngsters especially could become convinced that they are more important than anyone else, and that what they have to say should be read and responded to by a wider audience. There is also vaguebooking, which is a crime in its own right.
Short Attention Spans
If you’re anything like me you will have noticed your attention span shortening in recent years. I can safely say that since the arrival of the Internet, and of social networking sites in particular, my mind flits between things at a faster rate than it once did. There is so much information to consume that we rarely spend any time exploring any of it in great depth.
All social networking sites add to this information overload to a certain extent but Twitter is the main culprit. People are condensing everything down to 140 characters or less, so when it comes time to actually read anything longer than that, it takes a change of pace and a change of mindset to do so. I suspect you’re even skim-reading this article. I’m not offended, we all do it, but it’s another way in which social networking sites have had a negative impact on society.
Causing Distraction & Harming Productivity
I work from home as a freelance writer. I love my job, but sometimes it’s hard to stay focused and on track. Especially when you work on the Web and cannot help but be surrounded by sites trying to seduce you into wasting time. Social networking sites are some of the worst offenders. Purely because they’re a constant stream of news and views from people who, for the most part, you want to listen to.
Then there are the games, such as Angry Birds, Facebook Scrabble, and Zynga Poker, which tempt you into playing for five minutes and end up consuming your whole afternoon. If you have a whole afternoon to spare then great, no harm done. But what about those working or studying? The distraction is harmful to productivity, and isn’t going to do society any good in the long term.
Breaking Up Relationships
Reconnecting with old friends from school may seem a nice idea, and in many ways it is. You have a lot to talk about, stories to tell, reminiscences to bond over. But you may reconnect with someone you once adored from afar. And now that you’re all grown-up you may get the urge to explore feelings that went unrequited 20 or 30 years ago. If you’re already in a relationship this could spell disaster.
It isn’t just old flames, either. People use social networking sites to hook up. Even if it’s a hook up of the extra-marital variety. I hate to think of the number of relationships and even marriages that have ended as a result of social networking. And when they do, where is the first place people share the news? On that same social networking site, of course.
Over-Sharing & Loss of Privacy
This is perhaps the biggest impact for the worse that social networking as a whole is having on society. The very concept of privacy seems to be inexorably eroding, and at a fantastic pace. Those of us who are connected to the Internet are connected 24/7, and we have immersed ourselves in an extension of society in which privacy is not treated with the high regard it is offline.
It isn’t just social networks that are to blame for this, but Facebook has led the way in showing how powerful a tool it can be in coercing people to happily give up personal information. Most of us list our full name and birthday, reveal who our family members are, share our work history, our hobbies and interests, and even what we like and dislike. And we’re doing so without any kind of prodding or pushing.
Most people would rightly refuse to walk around with a billboard attached to their front revealing all and sundry to the world. Yet we do just that on social networking sites. A dream for advertisers and marketers, but a nightmare for the rest of us.
Do you still think social networking sites are, at worst nothing to worry about, at best wholly positive influences on humanity? If so then I’ll be amazed, but I would love to hear your reasoning about these negative impacts of social networking sites. Will any of this make me delete my Facebook and Twitter accounts? Of course not, but it does make me a little more cautious about how (and how often) I use them.