Social media breeds anti-social interactions

Have you ever been that person in the social situation who doesn’t know what to do or how to interact, so you pull out your cell phone and pretend to text someone? Or maybe you actually text someone just to not feel totally inadequate.

According to a report by the CTIA: The Wireless Association, mobile users sent an average of 4.1 billion text messages every day. That is almost 1.5 trillion text messages in the entire year. The average number of daily Tweets reported was 27.3 million.

But while the social media boom is clearly on its upswing, real life social skills are ironically falling off in dramatic fashion.

Usually, when I walk on campus, I smile and nod at people, greeting them as I pass. Not all notice. But most of the ones that do notice find it quite weird. It’s even worse when I say something like “Hello.”

Sometimes I wonder how we actually make friends without liquid courage.

Every so often, Zac Hampton, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, will perform an experiment on campus. All day, he will smile at everyone he passes within reasonable distance. In his past experiences, he’s received very few smiles in return. As a joyful and attractive man, it was definitely not his appearance scaring people.

Trevor Smith, a junior majoring in screenwriting, has noticed something similar. As a former Spirit Leader, he will occasionally extend a “Fight on!” to people he encounters on campus only to endure looks that seem to ask “Are you crazy?!” Our USC tour guides must be falsely advertising when they tell people that students constantly greet each other with this Trojan battle cry.

Frequently, I get a Facebook friend request from someone I have just met, or someone that saw me across a room, or someone I’ve never seen or heard of in my life.

Sometimes it is just that, a friend request to solidify our “friendship” as “official.” Other times, this ceremonial friendship betrothing results in some awkward electronic conversation or an attempt at one at least.

I wonder to myself: Why hasn’t this person ever talked to me like real people talk? I know I’m not the only one to encounter such unconventional social skills.

Betsy Avila | Daily Trojan

Then there is Twitter, which is just another electronic excuse for us to lack social dexterity. “Grocery shopping.” “Finally found a table in the Lot.” Or worse yet: “Drink number one at the 9-0.” Quickly followed by: “Drink number two at the 9-0” in some infinite loop as if in between drinks the tweeter masquerades his lack of human interaction by mass texting some absurdly boring message.

We read these messages (that we really don’t care to read) because, when we have our face in our phones, we are excused from relating with people in our physical presence.

Just last week, I was eating in a restaurant and all four people at the table next to me were silent and staring at their napkins. After a mild double-take, I realized they were all texting. The only time I heard noise from their table was ordering, eating, drinking and a chuckle after one read aloud a moderately funny message.

Cell phones are to us what books were to unsocial “book nerds.” Except for some reason cell phones are more socially acceptable.

In the beginning of the cell phone era, it was unmannerly to use a cell phone in the presence of people unless it was an emergency call. The reason was simple: Human relationships in the moment are more important than any detached electronic connection.

These social mediums are great for keeping in contact with people we do not get to see on a regular basis. But we have allowed them to kill our ability to intermingle, even to the point of relying completely on alcohol.

There used to be a time when constant social interaction defined society. People cared more for each other because they talked to each other, even strangers. In fact, some of the most life-changing conversations I have had were with complete strangers willing to respond to my greeting and be vulnerable.

Etiquette was not some set of rules that made us strut pompously. Rather, it was a set of guidelines, which made for effective, efficient and real relationships that went beyond complaining about homework, test difficulty or football.

A few lessons in etiquette along with an increased desire to actually know people will take our socializing capabilities a long way while making our USC community interconnected on a deeper level than any mass electronic message could possibly do.

Jensen Carlsen is a senior majoring in economics and mathematics.  His column “The Bridge” runs Wednesdays.

3 replies
  1. 1234 friends on facebook
    1234 friends on facebook says:

    “All I’m saying is that sometimes a 140 character message is more effective than having a chat over a cup of coffee.”

    Good communication is cogent, not loquacious. Hell no I won’t facebook you, I don’t want you to write a novel on my wall, LOL!

  2. Mike Escoto
    Mike Escoto says:

    I write this on my blackberry while sitting at dinner with a few friends who are all either texting, tweeting or writing on someone’s facebook wall.

    I’m not offended by them.

    As the director of social media for a political consulting firm, social media has brought a new level of social interaction to a 24/7 world. From protests in Iran to relief for Haiti, social media has been invaluable to keep the world connected. And yes, the boring facebook status still has meaning to someone.

    I’m not sure exactly when a stranger, precipitously greeting people at random was returned in kind except in a black and white movie where married couples slept in separated twin beds.

    Its quite self absorbed to assume that our undivided attention should be limited to those who are conveniently around. I love the fact that I can know what my colleague is reading in Idaho, or that my friend just got a new car in Texas, or how I can help orphans in Haiti in less than 140 characters.

    We live in a big world and technology like social media allows that world to become ever smaller. We are no longer constrained by distance or random chance meeting.

    What I do not understand is your ideal? How should I keep in contact with those not directly in front of me? Call? Write a letter? Maybe a fax? That’s simply technology a generation ago. A lot of partisanship occurs because sides can’t understand the other. If you want to understand them, read their blogs, check their facebook posts. Just because you disagree with the medium, doesn’t take away from the effect. Social media is more effective hands down.

    As technology expands, so does social interaction.

    As much as I’d love to have dinner or share an elevator ride with all my friends; in an economy rocked by failed stimulus and uncertainty regarding double digit unemployment, all aspects of our lives have to be more compact and efficient. That includes social interaction which allows people to keep in contact with several people with less time and effort with richer, more instant information.

    Social media is a testament of our expanded social interaction because we now can keep in efficiently close contact with several people who otherwise I would never see or hear from again. And even met new people.

    One person named Haley from Orange County, I talked to via twitter for several months, even occasionally a wall post. Then we met during a tweet-up that she organized. I tweeted a few months ago about how my friend was suddenly struck with cancer and a church in Oregon contacted me about how they could pray for her. Would you consider that a limitation of social interaction when one is expanding their social base?

    Am I saying we should cut off all personal interaction? By no means! All I’m saying is that sometimes a 140 character message is more effective than having a chat over a cup of coffee.

    Mike Escoto
    Alum – Political Science

Comments are closed.