• Family & Parenting
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How Social Media Makes Us Unsocial: Allison Graham (Transcript)

  • June 11, 2020 7:47 am September 25, 2023 4:21 am
  • by Pangambam S

social media makes us unsocial essay

Here is the transcript and summary of Social Media historian Allison Graham’s talk:  How Social Media Makes Us Unsocial at TEDxSMU conference. In this talk, she shares the funny and revealing insights of a life lived online and how social media is used to connect and disconnect us.

Best quote from this talk: 

“I think we would all live life better if we had hands to hold rather than keys to click.”

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Allison Graham – Social Media historian

Hi! Thank you very much.

I’d like to start out by asking everyone to power down their devices during my talk. And for those of you that don’t know the power buttons, it’s either on the top or on the side of your phone.

I’d also like to thank the guys from state.com for permission to use this video.

[Video clip]

“I want to post about how great this coffee is, but I can’t think of a funny way to say it.”

“This post is like a page long. How do I shorten this?”

“Just take out all the vowels.” [Still be the other page]


“Hey guys, you on Twitter? Follow me.”

“Sometimes I want to move to another country where I won’t have to deal with this stuff.”

(in foreign language) “SHHH.. I am working on a Tweet!” “Does this seem too much like I’m bragging?”

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The Era of Antisocial Social Media

  • Sara Wilson

social media makes us unsocial essay

Young people’s behaviors are changing. How will businesses adapt?

When you look at who is — and more importantly, who is not — driving the growth and popularity of social platforms, a key demographic appears to be somewhat in retreat: young people. They’re craving privacy, safety, and a respite from the throngs of people on social platforms (throngs that now usually include their parents), and gravitating toward more intimate destinations. The author has dubbed these “digital campfires.” She outlines three kinds of campfires, including the characteristics of each, as well as how brands are successfully reaching these audiences.

Social platforms are still reporting robust growth — yes, even Facebook — despite a growing chorus of opposition. Social conversation continues to shape everything from culture to the media cycle to our most intimate relationships . And we now spend more time than ever on our phones , with endless scrolling through our social feeds being a chief reason why.

social media makes us unsocial essay

  • Sara Wilson   helps brands, publishers and high-profile individuals find, engage and grow devoted audiences across digital channels. As the founder of SW Projects , she has advised clients including Nike, Bumble, the New York Times, National Geographic, Sony Pictures Television, Bustle, Overheard, and others. Prior to SW Projects, Sara oversaw lifestyle partnerships at Facebook & Instagram. Sara is also the creator of The Digital Campfire Download, where she interviews the entrepreneurs behind the fastest-growing online communities today. You can follow her on Twitter @ wilsonspeaks  or on LinkedIn @ saraewilson .

Partner Center

Steve Rose, PhD

Is Social Media Making Us Less Social?

social media makes us unsocial essay

Written by Steve Rose

Identity, purpose, and belonging, 15 comments(s).

On the go? Listen to the audio version of the article here:

In an age where we are becoming more connected through social media every day, it sometimes feels like we are also becoming less social.

Why go through all of the inconvenience of meeting up in person when you can simply catch up online?

Within the last decade, technology has profoundly shifted the nature of human communication.

Some say we are “hyper-social,” always connected and communicating with multiple people at the same time.  Others would say we have become “anti-social,” glued to our devices, and lacking interpersonal skills.  So which is it?

Is social media making us less social?

Social Media is making us less social when used to compare oneself to others, contributing to higher levels of loneliness and lower levels of well-being among frequent users. It can be social when used to connect with others.

Let’s take a look at the research.

Also, if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, you can check out my  resource page  for suggestions on how to find help.

Social Media Contributes to Social Isolation

The first study looking at this phenomenon was published in 1998, around the time when many people were starting to use the internet.

The researchers followed 169 people during the first two years of their internet use to determine if this new technology made them more social or less social, finding:

“…greater use of the Internet was associated with declines in participants’ communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their depression and loneliness.”

This was seen as quite the paradox, given that the individuals were using the internet extensively as a communication technology.

A 2004 study comparing internet use to face-to-face interaction found a similar conclusion, stating:

…the Internet can decrease social well-being, even though it is often used as a communication tool.

Has anything changed since then?

Ten years later, a 2014 study  on college students suffering from internet addiction found:

Results show that excessive and unhealthy Internet use would increase feelings of loneliness over time…[.] This study also found that online social contacts with friends and family were not an effective alternative for offline social interactions in reducing feelings of loneliness.

In her recent book,  iGen , Jean Twenge writes about the generation born after 1994, finding high rates of mental health issues and isolation:

“A stunning 31% more 8th and 10th graders felt lonely in 2015 than in 2011, along with 22% more 12th graders”…[.] All in all, iGen’ers are increasingly disconnected from human relationships.

She argues the increasing level of screen-time and decreasing degree of in-person interaction leaves igen lacking social skills:

“In the next decade we may see more young people who know just the right emoji for a situation—but not the right facial expression.”

A 2016 study comments on this generational phenomenon, stating:

It is surprising then that, in spite of this enhanced interconnectivity, young adults may be lonelier than other age groups, and that the current generation may be the loneliest ever.

The correlation between internet use and isolation is fairly established in the literature. But let’s not paint the whole internet with the same brush.

A 2014 study  highlights the psychological costs and benefits derived from social media use, stating:

…online tools create a paradox for social connectedness. On one hand, they elevate the ease in which individuals may form and create online groups and communities, but on the other, they can create a source of alienation and ostracism.

It turns out the answer may be a bit more complicated.

Let’s take a look at the specific factors that make the difference.

Social Media Can Be Social (If used to connect)

A 2016 study with the apt subtitle, “Why an Instagram picture may be worth more than a thousand Twitter words,” finds that image-based social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat may be able to decrease loneliness because of the higher levels of intimacy they provide.

Another 2016 study , specifically looking at Instagram use, found that it isn’t the platform that matters. It is the way the platform is used that matters.

The researchers studied Instagram use among 208 undergraduate students, finding there was one thing that made all the difference: “the social comparison orientation.”

What is social comparison orientation?

It’s when you compare yourself to others on social media. For example, you may find yourself passively scanning through an endless feed of finely curated photos, wishing you had a different body, a different job, a different  life !

It’s the sense that everyone has it better than you, and that you’re missing out on all of the best events, vacations, and products.

Students who rated high on social comparison orientation were more likely to widely broadcast their posts in an attempt to gain status. Students who rated low were more likely to use the platform to connect with others meaningfully.

A 2008 study on internet use among older adults supports this distinction, finding:

…greater use of the Internet as a communication tool was associated with a lower level of social loneliness. In contrast, greater use of the Internet to find new people was associated with a higher level of emotional loneliness.

Using the internet as a communication tool can decrease loneliness.

Experimental evidence in a 2004 study , highlights this by measuring a person’s level of loneliness throughout multiple intervals as they engage in an online chat. They concluded:

Internet use was found to decrease loneliness and depression significantly, while perceived social support and self-esteem increased significantly.

Although chatting online can decrease loneliness, what about using social media platforms to post status updates?

A 2012 study  conducted an experiment to determine if posting a Facebook status increases or decreases loneliness. Yes, this is an actual experiment.

The researchers told one group of participants to increase their number of status updates for one week. They didn’t give any instructions to a second control group. Results revealed:

(1) that the experimentally induced increase in status updating activity reduced loneliness, (2) that the decrease in loneliness was due to participants feeling more connected to their friends on a daily basis, and (3) that the effect of posting on loneliness was independent of direct social feedback (i.e., responses) by friends.  

These results may seem to contradict the previous finding that social media broadcasting is correlated with increased loneliness, but there is a crucial difference: the social comparison orientation.

In this experiment, the researchers did not differentiate between users who had high or low levels of social comparison. The users in the group being told to update their status more frequently were not told to scan their news feeds more often, nor was their social media use manipulated to alter their level of social comparison.

So what is the key lesson here?

Using social media in a way that connects us with others can make us less lonely and more social.

Unfortunately, as social media use increases, we are becoming lonelier.

This trend suggests we may not be using social media in the most social ways, comparing ourselves to others. In addition, we may be sacrificing in-person interaction for the convenience of social media interaction. Both of these factors increase the likelihood of experiencing social isolation.

If you are interested in reading more on the psychology of social media, you can check out my comprehensive post on the topic here: Why We Are Addicted To Social Media: The Psychology of Likes .

In that article, I go deep into the research on what keeps our brains hooked on social media likes and how you can use social media in a healthier way.

Fascinated by ideas? Check out my podcast:

Struggling with an addiction.

If you’re struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to stop. Gaining short-term relief, at a long-term cost, you may start to wonder if it’s even worth it anymore. If you’re looking to make some changes, feel free to reach out. I offer individual addiction counselling to clients in the US and Canada. If you’re interested in learning more, you can send me a message here .

Other Mental Health Resources

If you are struggling with other mental health issues or are  looking for a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory  here to find a practitioner who specializes in your area of concern.

If you require a lower-cost option, you can check out BetterHelp.com . It is one of the most flexible forms of online counseling.  Their main benefit is lower costs, high accessibility through their mobile app, and the ability to switch counselors quickly and easily, until you find the right fit.

*As an affiliate partner with Better Help, I receive a referral fee if you purchase products or services through the links provided.

As always, it is important to be critical when seeking help, since the quality of counselors are not consistent. If you are not feeling supported, it may be helpful to seek out another practitioner. I wrote an article on things to consider here .

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social media makes us unsocial essay

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that’s just it, people often mistake being connected on a more personal level with the total number of “Friends” they have on FB or MySpace or whatever OTHER forms of social networking, and they often neglect to realize, that face-to-face interaction is what makes these connections between people more intimate…

Steve Rose

Exactly. Social media can supplement your social life if used to connect, but can’t be a substitute for it. Thanks for the comment! Great to connect with you again. It has been a while since I’ve posted.

Yeah but now, modern day people tend to use social media as their only FORM of connection, it’s like if you don’t exist on FB or other forms of social netowrking sites, you practctically, don’t exist at all!

With the trend toward increasing loneliness, it would for sure suggest social media is replacing in-person interaction.


one of the damning statistics on the recent programme Pllanet Children was 97% of primary school children were taken to school by an adult. They spend less time outside than those in prison. Our kids are getting fatter. They live in a bubble and social media swells that bubble and the vision of themselves becomes increasingly distorted. My grandkid loves phones because mum and dad always have their noses in their phones. The grandkid isn’t content with a kid-on phone. She wants the real one, and she’s just over a year old. We create our own hell, but our kids jump in with both feet. Why shouldn’t they? Mum and dad do it and it’s vastly entertaining. Social media swallows time. Why am I adding to it here? God knows.

Thanks for sharing this fact and your personal experience! I think you might be interested in this book on the subject of bubble wrapped children: Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)

Rosaliene Bacchus

Thanks for raising this issue, Steve. I’ve tried, without success, to arrange a lunch-meet with a dear friend–just half-hour away by bus–who has fallen victim to FB’s false promise of connection. Since I’ve long escaped from FB-addiction, I no longer know how she’s doing.

Glad to see you’ve been able to gain a sense of control! I hope your friend is well and wish her all the best.

Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

In a restaurant, I went to a couple both staring deeply and silently at their phones and said, “That’s true love.” They laughed.

lol! Nice one!


Not up on the research, but it is fascinating. Might we be getting the correlation confused? Could it be that people who are more lonely are more likely to spend time on social media in search of connection? Is this controlled in the research?

From the research I’ve seen so far, it seems that social anxiety is the confounding variable between loneliness and increased social media use. Also, Jean Twange looks at this question in her book igen and finds that the research supports the hypothesis that social media use leads to increased loneliness. A couple of experiments I cited here use a control and don’t support that hypothesis, but they are fairly limited because they only look at narrow forms of social media use like status updates or chatting with an anonymous person.


Correctly said.


  • The Power of Social Connection | Steve Rose PhD - […] forms of addiction are especially focused on the “social” theme. My article, “Is Social Media Making us Less Social?”…

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social media makes us unsocial essay

Social Media is Making Us Unsocial

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The Antisocial Effects of Social Media

To the Editor:

As a parent, educator and psychologist, I found “ The Flight From Conversation ,” by Sherry Turkle (Sunday Review, April 22), particularly relevant. Social media enable us to communicate but replace face-to-face time with others and impede having real connections.

Ms. Turkle points out that in lacking conversations, we also have fewer opportunities to self-reflect. Children develop in the context of a relationship. Emotions drive behavior and are central in all relationships.

These emotional connections give us feedback toward a heightened self and social awareness, promoting thinking, reflecting and an understanding of what is going on within and between us. These are essential skills all lacking in social media communication.

For our children truly to become successful personally, socially and academically, we all need to start connecting emotionally. We need to stop looking at our smartphones and smarten up by looking within ourselves and among one another!

DONNA HOUSMAN Weston, Mass., April 23, 2012

The writer is the founder and executive director of Beginnings School, a private school for children 3 months to 6 years.

social media makes us unsocial essay

In noting the atrophy of conversational skills wrought by texting, e-mailing, tweeting and so on, Sherry Turkle echoes J. B. Priestley’s uncannily prescient observation, deduced long before the advent of these near pre-emptive modes of human interaction: “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”

RICHARD BOYCE San Francisco, April 23, 2012

Sherry Turkle accurately describes the world of online connections. The irony is that those who want to engage in real face-to-face conversations are too often forced to endure intrusive cellphone monologues in restaurants, theaters, commuter trains, airline cabins ...

LARRY SCHLACK Kalamazoo, Mich., April 23, 2012

When I was in high school in the late 1960s, my father told my sisters and me to do three things before we got married. Spend time with the boyfriend and his family. Go away for a weekend with him. Play a competitive game with him.

Now, 40 years later, we need to tell our children simply, “Spend a weekend with someone you love without any devices on before making any big life decisions.”

BETH ROSEN New York, April 22, 2012

The writer is a certified social worker and psychotherapist.

No one needs to go online to flee from conversation. My husband gets home delivery of The New York Times.

MURIEL SCHLEIDER Brooklyn, April 22, 2012

  • TeachableMoment

Does Social Media Make Us More or Less Connected?

Is social media strengthening our communities, or is it actually harming our ability to connect in person? Students  discuss two readings about the pros and cons of social media engagement, including some research on this question. 

  • social media

To the Teacher

At its core, social media holds out the promise of connection. A key idea behind Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other platforms is that we can create rich networks of friends, receive frequent updates from people in our lives, and build a sense of community.

On sites such as Facebook, it is common for someone to have hundreds of “friends.” Yet, in reality, the experience does not always live up to the hype. Despite this ever-present promise of community, many people feel isolated and alone. Although people may have hundreds or even thousands of online “friends,” they may have few actual people in real life that they can rely on. All of this raises the question, is social media strengthening our communities, or is spending time on our phones and computers actually harming our ability to connect in person?

This lesson consists of two readings. The first reading explores the experience of connection online, asking whether or not social media helps make us feel more connected to one another. The second reading examines the data regarding how social media affects our mental health, looking at studies of the possible positive and negative effects of social media usage, especially for young people. Questions for discussion follow each reading.  

Note:  This lesson is Part 1 of a series of lessons on social media.

  • Part 1:  Does Social Media Make Us More or Less Connected ?
  • Part 2: Social Media and the Future of Democracy
  • Part 3: Can We Protect Our Privacy on Social Media?

Social media

Ask students to share one word or reaction they have when they hear the phrase “social media.”

Alternatively, make a visual web of their reactions by writing the term “social media” in the center of the board, circling it, then asking students for their associations with the phrase. Write down students’ associations without comment in the space surrounding the circled phrase, and connect their words with a line to the center. Once responses have slowed, step back and look at the web. 

Ask students: What patterns do you see here? What does this web say about our reactions to social media?

Tell students that today we’ll read and discuss two short pieces about social media and its impact, both positive and negative.  

Reading One: Experiencing Connection, On and Off-Line  

At its core, social media holds out the promise of connection. A key idea behind Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other platforms is that we can create rich networks of friends, receive frequent updates from people in our lives, and build a sense of community. On sites such as Facebook, it is not uncommon for someone to have hundreds of “friends.” Yet, in reality, the experience does not always live up to the hype. Despite this ever-present promise of community, many people feel isolated and alone. Although people may have hundreds or even thousands of online “friends,” they may have few actual people in real life that they can rely on.

All of this raises the question, is social media strengthening our communities, or is spending time on our phones and computers actually harming our ability to connect in person?

One commonly held view holds that spending too much time on social media is detrimental. Many influential people—ranging from Pope Francis, to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to actress and singer Selena Gomez—have warned that overuse of social media can be harmful and isolating. In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, Michelle Obama stated , “We have to get off the phone and knock on doors and talk to each other face to face…. We can’t rely on the internet to tell us about the world.”

For reasons like these, people of all ages have begun limiting their time on social media and focusing instead on building relationships in real life. In a 2017 article, Teen Vogue’s Beauty and Health Director Jessica Matlin documented the increase in young people logging off. She writes about a student named Faith, 17, who moved from a Philadelphia suburb to a new school in New York City. Faith said that it was hard to make friends. She felt insecure about this, so she used her phone to share stories to make it seem to her friends back home that she was making lots of friends and having a great time. “In reality, I was struggling,” she said. The story goes on to tell Faith’s story since then:

 Now that [Faith has] found her own crew, she’s grown more skeptical about social media. She also doesn’t feel compelled to get it all on film. At a Coldplay show, she sang instead of Snapped (“I’d rather enjoy the music”), and sitting down to a recent dinner, she and her friends piled their phones in the middle of the table (“It made the night so much better”).... “Young adults are beginning to take a more mindful approach to social media,” says Jacqueline Nesi, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies teens and social media. “This may explain the rise in apps like SelfControl and Anti-Social.” (Both prevent you from falling into a Facebook hole.) And that no-phones-at-dinner policy? Nesi says we are likely to see it popping up on more tables…. Ananda, 17, had the kind of Insta-following that any start-up would kill for. Before long, it became a total chore. What started as a place to share vegan recipes and cute outfits quickly became her “brand,” something that demanded daily upkeep. Her fans constantly direct-messaged her with praise and invites to meet up. “It was really sweet,” she says. “At the same time, it was so time- and energy-consuming—it wasn’t how I want to build friendships.” As she started posting less, her following dropped. (“That gave me anxiety,” she says.) Finally, she just closed her account. “I do miss it, but I have time to spend with my real friends.” “Social media relationships aren’t real relationships,” says Faith. “It’s always weird when you see someone who follows you and you follow back, but you don’t say ‘hi’ to each other when you see them in real life.” [ https://www.teenvogue.com/story/why-young-adults-are-taking-a-more-mindful-approach-to-social-media ]  

Despite such testimonies to the benefits of taking breaks from social media, not everyone agrees that online community is inherently unhealthy—or that offline friendships should count as being a valuable part on one’s “real life,” while online connections are disregarded. For years, young people have maintained that social media can provide real connection. In a 2018 article for The Washington Post, Common Sense Media parenting editor Caroline Knorr offered five benefits of social media. She wrote:

For a few years, many teens have been saying that social media — despite its flaws — is mostly positive . And new research is shedding light on the good things that can happen when kids connect, share and learn online. As kids begin to use tools such as Instagram , Snapchat , Twitter and even YouTube in earnest, they’re learning the responsibility that comes with the power to broadcast to the world…. It lets them do good. Twitter, Facebook and other large social networks expose kids to important issues and people from all over the world. Kids realize they have a voice they didn’t have before and are doing everything from crowdfunding social justice projects to anonymously tweeting positive thoughts …. It strengthens friendships. Studies, including Common Sense Media’s “ Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives ” and the Pew Research Center’s “Teens, Technology and Friendships” show that social media helps teenagers make friends and keep them. It can offer a sense of belonging. While heavy social media use can isolate kids, a study conducted by Griffith University and the University of Queensland in Australia found that although American teens have fewer friends than their historical counterparts, they are less lonely than teens in past decades . They report feeling less isolated and have become more socially adept, partly because of an increase in technology use.... Online acceptance — whether a kid is interested in an unusual subject that isn’t considered cool or is grappling with sexual identity — can validate a marginalized child…. One example occurred on a Minecraft forum on Reddit when an entire online community used voice-conferencing software to talk a teenager out of committing suicide . [ https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2018/03/19/5-ways-social-media-can-be-good-for-teens/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.74d64c1a442a ]  

Such arguments suggest that social media use can have both positive and negative aspects. Whether we experience it as helpful or harmful has a lot to do with how we engage, who we relate with, and what boundaries we decide to set for ourselves in our daily lives. Instead of passively accepting the platforms as they are, we can be critical in how we engage, recognizing that if social media offers the promise of community, it is a community that we must create for ourselves.

For Discussion

  • How much of the material in this reading was new to you, and how much was already familiar? Do you have any questions about what you read?  
  • What are your reactions to Faith’s story about cutting back on social media and feeling closer to friends? Does her story resonate with you – or not?  
  • Have you ever agreed to stow your phones when you’re having a get-together with friends? If so, what effect did it have?  
  • If you use social media, do you take breaks from it? Why or why not?  
  • What are your thoughts about the five benefits of social media cited in the Washington Post? Do they resonate with you? Why or why not?  
  • What are some arguments that social media decreases meaningful connection? Have you experienced any of these trends in your community?  
  • What are some arguments that social increases connection and has positive benefits? Do these ring true in your experience?  
  • Do you see generational differences in how different people look at the appropriate use of social media platforms? How would you characterize how your views might differ from those of your parents or teachers?

Reading Two: The Research on Social Media and Mental Health  

Reports about people’s experiences on social media are often anecdotal. They rely on individual stories about how a given user might feel. But can we get a bigger picture take on social media’s overall effect? What does the research say about social media’s impact on our mental well-being?

In an article in the September 2017 issue of The Atlantic entitled “Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?,” San Diego State psychology professor Jean Twenge examined some this research. Focusing most of her attention on the more negative impacts of social media on mental health, Twenge generated a media firestorm with her portrait of how social media increases our isolation. She wrote:

The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone…. Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones…. The Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and designed to be nationally representative, has asked 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991. The survey asks teens how happy they are and also how much of their leisure time they spend on various activities, including nonscreen activities such as in-person social interaction and exercise, and, in recent years, screen activities such as using social media, texting, and browsing the web. The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media. Admittedly, 10 hours a week is a lot. But those who spend six to nine hours a week on social media are still 47 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who use social media even less. The opposite is true of in-person interactions. Those who spend an above-average amount of time with their friends in person are 20 percent less likely to say they’re unhappy than those who hang out for a below-average amount of time…. Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.) [ https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/ ]  

Twenge’s article, shared by many concerned parents, prompted a wave of responses from other psychologists. Many noted that the research is more nuanced than the uproar around the inflammatory article made it seem. In a 2017 article for Psychology Today entitled “No, Smartphones are Not Destroying a Generation,” Assumption College psychology professor Sara Rose Cavanaugh questioned whether smartphones and social media were purely negative in their effects.

Emerging evidence indicates that like every other question psychologists can think to ask about human behavior, screen use and its association with psychological well-being varies based on a multitude of contextual and personal variables—for instance, how you use media, when you use it, and what else is going on in your life… [One study] by Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein uses a careful design that takes into account these sorts of factors and concludes that "moderate use of digital technology is not intrinsically harmful and may be advantageous in a connected world." Nowhere is Twenge's bias more obvious to me than in some research that she actually does review but then casts aside as seemingly irrelevant to her thesis... In the introduction to the piece she notes that this generation has sharply lower rates of alcohol use, teen pregnancies, unprotected sex , smoking , and car accidents than previous generations. This is what a destroyed generation looks like?  Moreover, there is good reason to think that smartphones and social media may have positive effects as well as negative effects. Routinely feeling connected to your social peers could have beneficial effects.... For instance, teens can find other teens interested in the same social movements, connect with teens across the globe on interests like music and fashion, and feel embedded in a social network filled with meaning. [ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/once-more-feeling/201708/no-smartphones-are-not-destroying-generation ]  

Twenge herself acknowledges that social media may have contributed a decrease in some behaviors that have traditionally made parents and guardians anxious, writing that “Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.”

A final point to consider in the debate over social media and mental health is that the platforms themselves have agendas--since companies like Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook make more money when people use them more, regardless of the impact on happiness or mental health. In a 2018 article for the BBC, investigative reporter Hilary Andersson argued that social media companies are deliberately addicting users to their products for financial gain.

"Behind every screen on your phone, there are generally like literally a thousand engineers that have worked on this thing to try to make it maximally addicting" [said former Mozilla and Jawbone employee Aza Raskin.] In 2006 Mr Raskin, a leading technology engineer himself, designed infinite scroll , one of the features of many apps that is now seen as highly habit forming. At the time, he was working for Humanized - a computer user-interface consultancy. Infinite scroll allows users to endlessly swipe down through content without clicking. "If you don't give your brain time to catch up with your impulses," Mr Raskin said, "you just keep scrolling." He said the innovation kept users looking at their phones far longer than necessary.  Mr Raskin said he had not set out to addict people and now felt guilty about it. But, he said, many designers were driven to create addictive app features by the business models of the big companies that employed them. "In order to get the next round of funding, in order to get your stock price up, the amount of time that people spend on your app has to go up," he said…."So, when you put that much pressure on that one number, you're going to start trying to invent new ways of getting people to stay hooked." "You have a business model designed to engage you and get you to basically suck as much time out of your life as possible and then selling that attention to advertisers." Facebook told the BBC that its products were designed "to bring people closer to their friends, family, and the things they care about.” It said that "at no stage does wanting something to be addictive factor into that process".... [Yet] last year Facebook's founding president, Sean Parker, said publicly that the company set out to consume as much user time as possible. He claimed it was "exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology." [ https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-44640959 ]  

Ultimately, promises of connection offered by social media platforms are sales pitches. But real community is not a product that people can buy. Whether or not we use technology in creating our own communities, we can be aware that the platforms we might choose to use are by no means neutral.

  • According to the article, what does research indicate about the impacts of social media on young people?  
  • Does the article reflect your own sense of social media’s impact?    
  • Some critics argued that the article entitled, “Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?” was unduly sensationalist. What did you think?  
  • Do you think social media is partly to blame for rising rates of depression and anxiety among young people? Why or why not?  
  • What possible changes could be made in apps to make them less addicting?  
  • Are there any changes you would make in how social media platforms are structured?

Ask for volunteers to share one thing they like about social media, and one thing they think should change about social media.

Research assistance provided by John Bergen.

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Social Media is Making us Unsocial

Social Media is Making us Unsocial

October 5, 2020.

A Ted Talk by Kristin Gallucci, a Marketer, specialized in LinkedIn Advertising, shared an experience of a social media conference she attended. She shared how she was trying to interact with people, influencers present there, but was continually being ignored. She also mentioned that people over there chose to connect via social media rather than personally. They were choosing social media over a relationship.

The very first recognizable social media came in 1997 and was called ‘Six Degrees.’ But the real explosion in social media took place once blogging started. And since then, after two decades, we have come a long way. According to Statista data of 2019, an average human today is spending around 144 minutes on social media daily, and this is increasing by two minutes everyday [1]. It turns out to be 5.5 years of an average person’s lifetime being spent on social media. I had my first social media account on Orkut way back in 2010. And today, I am so much involved that I had to take a harsh step; millennials call this by a fancy word, ‘Social Media Detox.’

Social media has made the world a better place for us. But it has also been killing our relationships. Those long discussions in hostel rooms, cousins laughing after seeing old photo albums, and those random conversations in trains; it seems like all this is fading away. Social Media has replaced our experiences as well. While dining out, we let our food get cold to click those perfect images and share them online. Social media today has made us dependent on how people perceive us. We are in dire need of them to like us. But what about the ones who already like us. To them, we are just giving out reasons to dislike us.

According to a study in the USA, between 2009 and 2017, the depression rate increased by 60% among kids from age 14 to 17 [3]. It was also found that for every 10% rise in negative experiences on social media, there can be seen a 13% rise in loneliness. Another survey shows that 37% of teens, between 12 to17, have been bullied online, and more than half of the LGBTQ community faces online harassment. 23% of students are involved directly or indirectly in cyberbullying activities. [2]

Henceforth, I would now like to introduce a phenomenon that exists just because of social media, ‘Slacktivism.’ Slacktivism is the practice of supporting political or social causes utilizing Social Media and is characterized by lesser efforts and commitment. Social causes are what we as humans fight for to make this world a better place. And these causes have been a driving factor in the growth of humans as a race. We are somewhere losing our driving forces behind the face of social media.

In the end, I would like to say that it is not the technology that is to be blamed for making us unsocial, but us humans. We always strive to move forward, and we will make technology to move forward as well. But we can’t be blaming everything on it, because it is us who has created technology and we need it. The human race has come so far, just because of one point of differentiation, our ability to socialize. And if we are giving that away like this, do we even deserve to be this species?

About the Author


Aniket Singh is pursuing his MBA from IIM Udaipur and has an inclination towards Marketing. He is a Mechanical Engineer by profession and hails form the sports city of India, Meerut. Coming from an Armed Forces background, he has had the opportunity to stay and experience the cultural diversity of the country. He is a rubix cube enthusiast and a fan of the series “How I Met Your Mother.” You can connect with him on LinkedIn

  • https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/
  • https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-cyber-bullying#fnref1
  • https://time.com/5550803/depression-suicide-rates-youth/
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Home / Essay Samples / Sociology / Effects of Social Media / Social Media is Making Us Less Social

Social Media is Making Us Less Social

  • Category: Sociology , Entertainment
  • Topic: Effects of Social Media , Social Media

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