Dubai: While social visits and friendly get-togethers used to be the main form of interaction, a good deal of human communication has been reduced to likes, tweets, and status updates.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have created a virtual world that has simplified communication between people from opposite corners of the world at the click of a button.
“ Luring the new generation into a world where self-expression is welcomed, social media has trapped many youth across the globe into an addiction that has them glued to their phones or laptops for hours on end.” Tweet this
Luring the new generation into a world where self-expression is welcomed, social media has trapped many youth across the globe into an addiction that has them glued to their phones and laptops for many hours of the day.
However, the question remains whether people missing out on their real lives because of their addiction to social media.
Anum Tarique, 25, from Pakistan, said she was addicted to social media before she had her first baby. During her university years, Anum said she was an excessive user of Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. “I would constantly be checking my accounts every few minutes and I would post or update my status every day and make albums and share pictures.” Anum explained that during these years she wasn’t aware of how involved and addicted she was to different social media sites.
“It all changed after I got married and became pregnant because my focus shifted from constantly being updated with what everyone is doing to what was important in my own life.” Anum started reading up on the preparations and challenges of having a baby. She sought news websites and TV channels to keep updated with events taking place in Dubai and other parts of the world, and only stayed in touch with people who were really close to her.
“I still use social media, but I am nowhere as active as I used to be. Now, I prefer to have a conversation with someone in person or over the phone rather than through chat, it’s just more personal,” she explained.
Looking back at the changes in her lifestyle over the past few years, Anum said her social media detox has helped her cut down her friend list and become more in touch with the people she really cares about. “I think it’s very difficult for people to suddenly end their addiction to social media if they don’t have something else that is more important to focus on — in my case I had my baby daughter.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, 25 year-old Faisal Mughal said he could never understand why people want to live their lives as an open book. “I don’t see the need for everyone to know what I’m doing in my everyday life or during my weekend — when you’re on social media you leave your self open to other people and you minimise your privacy.” Mughal pointed out that while interaction on social media could appear to be genuine, the lack of emotion and body language can disguise real intentions.
He explained that the excessive use of social media websites has also taken away from the sentiment of a phone call. “I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. I’m in touch with my real friends and I prefer to call them or see them in person.” As someone who has never been interested in social media, Mughal said he has never felt singled out. “You can have more than a thousand friends on your Facebook friend list, but how many of them actually care about you?” he asked.
Dr Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia, answered his question by pointing out that social media has created a different set of relationship rules and users have misused the term ‘friend’.
“Facebook greatly influenced our use of the word friend. If someone “friends you” on Facebook, it doesn’t automatically mean that you now have the closeness and intimacy that you have with some offline friends.”
While people make friends and delete others with a button, they also feel that with a couple of likes and positive comments they can maintain a friendship.
“Genuine relationship requires sweat, tears, and a lot of hard work,” said Dr Afridi.
She explained that computer-mediated communication and the extreme use of social networking sites can lead to the development of psychological factors.
Some users, especially adolescents, engage in what is called “friend-collecting behaviour”. These users ‘friend’ people they don’t know personally or that they wouldn’t talk to in person in order to increase the size of their online network. This could be what is known as ‘impression management strategy’. The term refers to users who may assume that a large number of Facebook friends will make them appear more popular, she added.
However, the dilemmas of using social media don’t stop there.
Being an active user on networking sites without letting it dictate one’s life is also a challenge for Christian Chibuzor, a Nigerian university student in Sharjah.
“I am an active user of Facebook, I would say I check it 10 or more times a day but it doesn’t affect how much I see my close friends and family.” Chibuzor emphasised the importance of body language in communication, pointing out that he prefers to converse with people face to face. The engineering student said he regularly uses social media to stay updated with some of his favourite sport teams and keep in touch with his friends and family living abroad.
“I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for such sites, I would barely be in touch with some of the people I know who are not in my close friends group.”
Classifying himself as a regular user of Facebook, Chibuzor said he is aware of the negative role of social media on human interaction. “It is especially annoying when you’re sitting with your friends for lunch and everyone is not really there because they are engaged on their phones.” Chibuzor explained that it is also a familiar image among his siblings at home.
While social media networks aim to dissolve the geographical gap between people, 28 year-old Mohammad Hasan is one of many who wonder whether it’s having a double effect.
“Social media has not only led to enormous improvements of people’s social interaction but also damaged the ability to communicate personally.”
Nawal Al Ramahi is an intern at Gulf News.