Social Media is not Social Interaction

Social Media Madness

Social Media MadnessMy role as a technology evangelist is to bring the good news about technology to you. Well there is good news and there is bad news. And as with most people I’m sure you prefer the bad news first. A question I want you to ask yourself before I share that news with you is this: is technology really neutral or is it biased based on the inherent function that is is designed for?

Anyway here’s the bad news: there is a myth promulgated that in today’s society that social media is social interaction. How can you compare a conversation at a braai to a conversation on Twitter? How can you compare a conversation over the dinner table with a conversation on a Facebook discussion group? How can you compare an intimate conversation late at night with your lover to the same conversation using MXit?

It is my opinion that we’ve reached a stage in our evolution as the human species, in the 21st century, that we’ve become chronically dependant on technology. Children born after 1985 or 1990 cannot imagine a world without cellphones, 24 hour television or the Internet. What do I mean when I say chronic dependency? I simply mean that we do not even realise to what extent we rely on these technologies until they are taken away from us.

Think back to the last time your cellphone battery died. How did you feel? Think back to the last time your Internet connection was down for a few hours. How  did you feel? Think about the last time the electricity in your neighbourhood was down. How did you feel? Some of you may have felt anger, some may have felt disgust, or resentment. However, I would vouchsafe that the real feeling beneath the exterior aggression was one of helplessness.

Now when I posted this comment on my Twitter/Facebook status the first person stated that it is not wrong or right. Well I go on the record now by saying it wrong to believe that social media interaction is the same as social interaction without social media. They are not the same and they are certainly not equivalent. I came to this conclusion after speaking to at tens of thousands of people across South Africa for the last few years on the psychology of technology.

When you correlate the use of our 5 senses in communication with that of “communicating through the screen” you realise to what extent we’ve come to accept this substandard way of communicating as genuine. When you are texting or using MXit, you cannot see the other person, hear the other person, touch the other person, smell the other person, let alone taste the other person. So you are not using any of your 5 senses in the interaction. When you do not use your 5 senses you are making decisions based on an exceptionally limited amount of information.

Yes its my opinion after observing thousands of South Africans interact using MXit, Facebook, Internet Dating and other technologies and convincing themselves its the equivalent of social interaction or let me rather say, face to face interaction.

The facts remain that we are like zealots when justifying our chronic dependency on technology. Agree or disagree?


Author: RJ Thomas

RJ Thomas is an International Relationship Builder. He was born in South Africa, and moved to China in 2013.

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  • While I cannot say what may be happening in South Africa, many of us here in the US (at least the west coast) are using social media to help interact socially (in person).

    We like to use social media to spread news about events, where and when they are happening, what happens at them and more. LBS (location based services) are getting real hot – and those allow people, friends, acquaintances, etc to meet up and keep in touch.

    I agree that we are getting more and more dependent on technology, but in many ways it is a good thing!

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  • I have split views on this and I’ll try and explain them in two examples.

    Example 1
    11:30pm the other night I wrote up something about one of our entrepreneur workshops on my blog and “tweeted” a link to it. Within call it 15 minutes I had 1 RSVP (and money in the bank) and had started 2 Skype discussions on the subject.

    Social media had become social interaction.

    Example 2

    I had this argument with one young (21 year old) entrepreneur who said that when he eventually was able to hire staff he wouldn’t need to provide them with offices or anything – they could work off Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Skype etc. and they would be able to build professional relationships and bring in the business he wanted.

    I told him he was smoking his socks and in fact if I had to hire staff now for my business I wouldn’t rush to let them use technology at all. My experience (from 4 or 5 young employees) was that given access to Facebook and MSN Chat they simply yapped to their mates all day and brought in nothing.

    If I hired somebody know (particularly a young person) I’d have them out at entrepreneur networking sessions, industry events etc where they are talking to real people and building networks face to face.

    Don’t get me wrong – technology is absolutely fantastic for doing this, but it is too easy to hide behind a computer screen and write it up as “professional networking” and “social interaction”.

    In conclusion:
    With the right relationships social media can be used for social networking… but you have to have to have the relationships in place to actually leverage off it.

  • Kate

    I think Facebook is useful for marketing purposes, but as far as the feeling of having visited friends I have not seen in a while compared to sending pixelated messages back and forth to them via websites (even less personable than a text message), well, let’s not pretend it’s a replacement.

    Some people are emphatically defensive of Facebook, though, and I’m sorry that FB has become a placeholder for actually spending time with friends. Constant updates by users about unimportant, ultra-banal “events” like, “John is hanging at Blah Blah w/ Blah Blah!” or “Jane just got home. LOL!” does lead me to wonder whether or not many users are making mountains out of their molehill lives. If those people DO have amazing, intricate, fascinating lives, then it isn’t showing…and the best way to HAVE said life is probably to go live it instead of typing about it like everyone is waiting with bated breath to figure out what your trend-setting, ground-breaking self is doing next.

    I’m sure lots of people use FB to truly, actually, get together PHYSICALLY, and not just pretend, but being tickled pink about a website that is simply the successor to the MySpace phenomena is kind of silly. MySpace was used for the same reasons people claim to use FB for, and the only difference I see is how it sells itself: “Facebook” sounds like a tool to be used, with possible usefulness, whereas MySpace sounds like a kiddie club, “No adults allowed!”