Is social media alienating us from one another or does technology strengthen our relationships? Because the evidence is contradictory, the debate rages on.
Media and communication studies often conclude that there are positive links between technology and our social lives whereas social science research might find negative correlations.
In a recent survey of 12,000 adults, Intel Labs found that 61 percent of young adults think technology is dehumanizing. The research indicates that Millennials are technology’s most unenthusiastic cheerleaders.
According to this study, Millennials do indeed feel as if they are bowling alone.
While self reports concerning the positive influence of social media and technology on relationships can be as contradictory as the research, there does appear to be a slow but steady downward trend among Millennials.
We know that Facebook has been the catalyst for broken hearts, jobs lost and family turmoil. We also know that it’s kept old friends and far-off family members more connected than ever before.
Facebook is undoubtedly a prominent part of Millennials’ on-screen lives but many of them are leaving Facebook to spend more time on Twitter, blogging platforms, messaging, photo and video sharing apps.
There are many reasons why Millennials are leaving Facebook: they feel overwhelmed, anxious, and want hide from potential employers, exes and extended family members. In a certain sense all of these reasons can be linked to the taxing process of impression management.
Today’s students have literally grown up online. My own students overwhelmingly report feeling ill-prepared in social situations and firmly believe that they lack adequate social skills.
It used to be that conversation among students came naturally, while waiting in line at the cafeteria, for example, or outside of a student adviser’s office. In similar situations today, everyone is glued to their screen, which lets them project an image of popularity without having to make real-life efforts.
Study abroad students initially panic because they can’t always be ‘connected.’ They frequent the same places that offer Wifi rather than explore the local environment. But as the weeks and months pass, they express gratitude for having lived offline (and for talking to one another at restaurants rather than texting and taking pictures of the food).
Indeed, they read, cook, socialize and soak up the local culture–some of which they would have missed had they been glued to their screens and preoccupied with impression management. Still, they worry about their ability to maintain these new habits back at home.
They admit that everyone is trying to project a positive image—“Look at me! I’m living a glamorous life studying abroad, skiing in the Alps, biking in Amsterdam, soaking up the sun in Nice! Check out the pizza and pasta I’m eating in Italy!”
But they are growing weary of this heightened sense of impression management and are not convinced by the impression management of others. They find it emotionally taxing, and are disappointed by people who are completely different in person than the image they project online.
They laugh at themselves for making plans with their new roommates via Facebook chat when they are merely sitting in the next room. And feel saddened by what they think they are missing out on back at home—the parties, the sporting events, etc. They blame Facebook.
“You’re in Europe!” I tell them. I encourage them to delight in the abroad experience without obsessing over cataloging and sharing every minute detail of their lives for the purpose of image curating.
Also, being connected 24/7 keeps them from figuring things out on their own. Why ask directions when there’s Google Maps? Why push through the uncomfortable emotions when your parents are only a click away?
I advise them to spend less time video conferencing and chatting with people they see frequently back at home, to limit their time with social media, to enjoy new friends, cultures and experiences more authentically and, most importantly, to embrace their independence.
While the switch to other social platforms can still keep Millennials glued to their screens, limiting time on Facebook — and the energy it requires for image curation — is a step towards taking that advice.