Social networking has been a growing trend globally, since the advent of the internet. When computers first became personal and the internet was being experimented with by skeptical users, the important utility of communication online began to get popular. People started using programs such as MIRC and AOL to talk to friends, family and people they knew from the comfort of their homes, without much charge. It was a different way to talk, without revealing your body language or your appearance. As it developed, people started the use of emoticons as a way to liven up the chat, to express emotions without having to type a message and to bring the inherent advantage of facial expressions into the fray. Thus this trend kept on going and with the amazing popularity and the need for people to be able to communicate and socialize in this manner, we saw the advent of social networking groups.
Social networks were basically online communities, reportedly of people who shared common interests so they could interact with each other. Names such as MySpace, Orkut and Facebook sprung up and in a sense became a part of the everyday lives of the people around the world. Such a form encouraged various new ways of interaction and sharing information. Now they are regularly used by computer users globally. They have been used for such purposes as interacting with the people you may know, meeting new people and finding new friends and even for business networking. Users can simply create a profile for themselves on these social networking services and share information about themselves and what they do with a range of people. This allows for healthy discussion between diverse individual, allowing people from dissimilar backgrounds to meet and share views where they normally would not do.
Looking at the way these social networking services have grown, it is however of considerable disadvantage for people as it tends to make individuals anti social in real life. One reason for this is that it potentially undermines the importance of the bond of friendship (Fiero 2009). In face to face interaction this holds a special place for people as they talk to each other and form a connection. They become at ease in the company of friends who can be relied on for support and are the people you share your experiences with. Friendship is a bond that has to be earned by individuals and most are not very liberal with whom to include in their circle of friends. However, social networking services completely change the dynamics involved. One can go online and indiscriminately add as many people one likes to their network and the accord special privileges to them (Olsen 2006). Most do this and thus allow a range of people to view who your friends are and get constant updates regarding your activities. However, such virtual friendships do not create the type of bond that one in the real world does. They have a tendency to fizzle out with time and people can hardly trust friends in online networks to support them through trials and tribulations of everyday life (Fiero 2009). It thus shifts the focus of people from something real to something fleeting and temporary.
Another reason why social networking is harmful is because of the surprisingly large number of young people and adolescents who regularly use them. Those children born during the times when social networking services became considerably popular see the virtual networks as a crucial part of their lives as they grow up and experience very little face to face interaction with friends (Rutter 1998). This deprives them of valuable conversations and development of social skills that are required for interaction with real people such as when they go to schools or to shops. Ultimately, it will create a generation that is wholly unaware of how to be around other people and become less social and thus be devoid of common courtesies and actions that have been in society for so long. A virtual “pat on the back” may not suffice when dealing with acquaintances that have encountered death in the family or had an important achievement.
Another reason social networks lead to anti social behavior is the inherent pull of such networking services (Fiero 2009). The virtual world presented there is very fast and ever changing. New friends can be acquired any time and one can comment on the actions of a variety of people at one time from the luxury of the arm chair. A person can promptly delete their profile at any time if it doesn’t appear well and relationships can be disposed off with the tap of a key. In such an exciting world of ever new people to talk to and various choices being available, people can become bored with the real world and in a sense find it not very stimulating. In this way, these networks tend to discourage going out or interacting with people from the neighborhood and even act as a deterrent for acquiring new physical experiences which makes a person very anti social. The individual may live in an apartment and spends days on end in front of the computer and a few hours on work, without the next door neighbor knowing one at all.
There is a sense of being disconnected with such social networks. While people may have fun sending random messages on cyber space, sharing amusing photos and finding out which superhero they match most closely, it does not serve as an effective substitute for real experiences (May 2008). Those enticed by such trivialities may lose touch of things such as going out with friends and dancing and drinking with them. People actually become isolated on their workstations, distant from the live and vibrant world around them where the smell of sweet flowers and walks with intimate folks tantalize and provide valuable experiences to be cherished.
The potential ease with which one can conceal one’s identity and appear as some one else is also a hallmark of social networking services. Surveys reveal that most people attempt to provide an improved view of themselves in their online profiles (Fog 2009). Anyone can easily upload doctored photos and provide incorrect information allowing them to become what they seldom get to be in real life. First off, this acts as a whirlpool for many facing inferiority complexes and low self esteem that can choose to become different in this virtual world. Thus it may lead to them being perpetually embroiled with their online networks and being discouraged from the outside world where they have to face challenges in terms of communication (Fog 2009). Secondly, it creates certain illusions in the minds of individuals who begin to view the real world from the perspective of their online networks. Thus where a person in a social network may appear to be very interesting based on their activities listed in their profiles, those in the real world would appear bland and relatively dull. This tends to discourage social behavior in the real world in favor of interacting with online buddies.
Another way that online networks harm social development is in the area of marriage or relationships (Fiero 2009). Studies have illustrated that married couples face turbulent times when people find old acquaintances and get a chance to rekindle bygone romances. This is grounded in human psychology as when individuals first form relationships, they tend to go through a defining phase where they learn new things and get new experiences and as such form a certain biological imprint of their first loves. Due to the early age, they finish off these early romances but as the body develops and maturity level rises and people begin to search for biological matches for each other, they ache for some form of communication with old lovers which could lead to further adverse outcomes. This is aided a great deal by online social networks where it is very easy to find such old acquaintances and get in touch with them. It could lead to breakup in long standing marriages and lowers trust among couples, bringing them to a strenuous period in their lives. Thus it creates further distances in real relationships, with greater reliance on virtual connections that are inherently temporary and can not serve as substitutes (Fiero 2009).
Taking a more balanced perspective, there are certain advantages and uses of online networking circles which provide marked benefits to people. Some social networking services actually serve a purpose in terms of allowing people to meet online and then aid them in getting in touch in the real world. One such example is LinkedIn which is a service primarily aimed at business networking (Fiero 2009). It does not boast features that allow synthetic friendships to be made or comments to be passed casually. Users don’t spend time on it talking about weekends and activities they performed which may later on deter real life socializing and promote more online presence. It actually requires individuals to be confirmed for membership by five others on the network who they know in real life which takes away the possibility of having to form accounts and profiles at will as and when one likes. It focuses exclusively on the business networking part, allowing people to meet and discuss things of importance and perhaps join together on some form of partnership. Such contact building actually helps interaction in real life and it serves an important purpose in terms of allowing individuals to separate their life with their friends and family with that from business associates. One talks to the latter online, leaving greater time for real socializing which is the way it should be.
Two more similar networking services are Twitter and Gurgle. Twitter has been gaining popularity, as has been shown by its use by the Obama Presidential Campaign lately. It allows users to follow each other’s activities and keep up with them. It is predicated on the exchange of short messages and minimal amount of random conversation (May 2008). This has proved valuable for businesses that can keep customers up to date with the “following” features in the service and it served the Obama campaign well in terms of allowing their responses to the Republican Campaign being viewed along with previous statements. This takes away the futility and addictiveness of random conversation but allows old activities to be viewed constantly so friends can know what they have missed and get together. Furthermore, it provides a greater business use, allowing for a good divide between work and real life. Gurgle is a similar service but with one specific group in mind. It provides an avenue for pregnant females and mothers as well as couples to come together and talk about the issues involved with giving birth and parenting. This is a good use since it involves discussion of problems and advantage of being able to talk regarding a subject which most may not be willing to discuss. It truly brings together people who “share a common interest” as is the stated claim of most networking circles. Most services however allow indiscriminate access to the service and random chatting which actually harms the social skills of a person and the impetus to socialize in real life. It may also lead to getting to know such similar minded people and actual real interaction in the outside world as such people may share common concerns, which creates a psychological link, thereby aiding understanding.
Another argument that is frequently put up is that social networks are in tune with the times we find ourselves in. The western individualistic society with strong importance of career and professional growth leaves little time for doing things that may have been the norm a few years back. This leads to a compression of time and when people are alone at home, resting from long and tenuous hours of work, social networks can provide an effective way of communicating and socializing with ones you know in the limited amount of times. It actually increases the socialization of a person if taken from that aspect (May 2008). It further isn’t much different from chatting on the phone or writing a letter which was very common in the olden days.
Looking at the current prevalence of social networks in our lives, one can see the importance they hold for many people around the world. They have successfully been able to become an essential part of the lives of many. As has been analyzed above, these networks hold significant disadvantages for people in terms encouraging spending more time on the workstation as compared to going out or speaking face to face with people around.It also redefines the concept of friendship and in a sense devalues it, as friends come and go with the tap of a key and the click of a mouse button. Furthermore, there is the ever present danger of going distant from ones you know and not being able to develop essential social skills as one grow up, in the case of children. However, this has been seen in contrast to the massive gains in terms of socializing these networks provide. They allow interaction with people from diverse backgrounds and in a world that moves fast, it allows time to spare to catch up with ones you know. It also provides an avenue for similar minded people to come together, as in the case of gurgle, and discuss issues which could lead to real life friendships.
What however truly illustrates the difference between such synthetic forms of socializing and actual meeting is the trend that society is going through. As we look around, we see the social networks becoming an increasing part of our lives and its abuse increasing steadily. The potential ease with which identities can be faked and “improved” provides for room for exploitation and friendships created on the basis of what one reads on a profile. It does not create meaningful connections and devalues many aspects that were once held important in human society. If a person does not know well ones neighbors, it puts significant doubt on his or her capacity to form a connection with those sitting miles away on a work station. This futility is dealt with to some extent in business networking services such as LinkedIn which is the one benefit social networks can be said to provide in terms of increasing socialization. These types of service functions act as a divide between a person’s colleagues and his or her friends, and simultaneously allow the individual to communicate with both at the same time. They also highlight the importance of friendship and friends and keeping in touch with them through these channels.
Fiero, Gian (2009). The Antisocial Aspect of Social Networking. from Ezine Articles.
Fogg, B.J (2009). The Psychology of Facebook. Stanford University.
May, Rob (2008). Is Social Networking Really Anti-Social? , from Business Pundit.
Olsen, Stephanie (2006). Google’s antisocial downside., from cNet News.
Rutter, Michael (1998). Antisocial Behavior by Young People. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.