Is Today’s Technology Affecting Your Social Skills?
The top toy in 1922 was a doctor kit. 1937 saw a Snow White tea set become the most sought after toy. These toys encouraged learning, imagination and interaction with others. Today I looked at the Top toys for Christmas 2011. Nearly all of them are electronic. None are educational. None encourage imagination, creativity or innovation. None inspire social interaction.
The closest that comes is the Lego Hogwarts board game. What do these toys have to offer our children? Children today are bombarded with smartphones, iPods, laptops and iPads. Why? The Internet is not simply a venue for online research or information library. Thanks to the social networks taking over everyone, children and adults alike, are spending hours tweeting, updating statuses and commenting on videos. This in turn results in more screen time and less people time
Are we on the verge of a nation amounting to nothing more than an Internet hermitage?
The Internet Junkie
In years past, people came together; at church gatherings, barn raisings, ice cream socials. Perhaps today all this sounds a bit nostalgic. In truth however it was not that long ago that the Internet was unknown. Instead, people picked up the phone. They wrote letters. They had tea, picnics, went to the movies (in person, not via netflix) and engaged with one another in person.
Today our world has become so polluted with the Internet in every single avenue of life; we fail to even notice it anymore. We have instead grown accustomed to seeing less of each other, and instead commenting on posts and blogs.
What is the cost of this change? As people swim in this Internet Sea, how are we as people, families and communities affected?
This change certainly has not occurred overnight and took years to come. However, that does not diminish its monumental and long-lasting effects. The Carnegie Mellon University published a report in 1998 that suggested heavy Internet usage was related to fewer friends as well as higher levels of depression and stress. The 90’s saw more studies supporting these claims. The term “Internet Addict” was birthed.
By definition someone suffering from Internet addiction checks their email obsessively, utilizes online services daily, has withdrawn from social settings, frequently loses track of time and experiences negative effects within personal and professional relationships directly related to Internet usage. How many of us fall prey to one or more aspects within this criterion?
To think this research was conducted before Bebo and Facebook? How many hours are lost to Twitter? How many marriages have broken up over Farmville?
When one includes social networking sites, how many of us would by definition be an Internet junkie?
In all seriousness, Internet addiction can be a very dangerous issue. The addiction itself is very real. Similar to other addictions such as alcoholism or drug abuse, Internet addicts cannot control themselves. They are secretive and lie to protect themselves. Their families, friends and work relationships are affected in very negative ways simply because of their extreme Internet usage.
The Exchange of Ideas
The Internet is a massive tool. It holds videos of nearly anything, photos around the world, entire libraries of books, online schools and universities, endless research studies and more information that any one person could possible digest. It also is a communication tool. It allows us to communicate. But how? And at what cost?
While we are indeed able to connect, contact, and exchange ideas with people worldwide, we are still lacking from person-to-person communication. Online communication consists of text. Only.
In person our exchanges are much more meaningful and deeper. We are able to hear the tone and inflection of the speaker’s voice. We can see the speaker’s facial expression and hand gestures. We can observe body language and attitude. We are able to look into an individual’s eyes and attempt to convey a message. We can wipe away the tears or join in the laughter. Online communication cannot offer any of that unless of course you count an occasional “lol”.
Online communication could be compared to a post-it note; whereas in-person communication would be a classic novel. We crave human interaction. We feel isolated and lonely without it. As social beings it is healthy. Some researchers claim it is even therapeutic. That cannot be said of the Internet.
Some claim that the Internet is ideal for social interactions as it is without bounds and offers complete freedom. It is true that the Internet has no boundaries and the freedom it offers is complete. Interestingly however, researchers have found that such Internet relationships are superficial and shallow. They are lacking in comparison to face-to-face relationships.
This is not surprising when one thinks about it. How many times have we felt disengaged after a friend moves away? How many people on your friends’ list is a true, close friend? How well do you know the people on your contact list? While these people are part of your life, at least at the fringe, they are often not close or meaningful in any way.
Our youth are spending more time than ever attached to some kind of electronic device. Thanks to Ipod, Ipads and the like more often than not, this device has the capacity for Internet usage.
Kids are commenting, posting, tweaking, and twittering like mad!
Sadly, their online time is not an adequate replacement for social interaction. Many kids now struggle in social settings. Clinicians worry that we may be on the brink of a generation without social skills. The Internet offers them refuge. It’s easy to manage, completely freeing, and the user has all the control.
Why wouldn’t someone with social anxiety fall in love? Clearly, the Internet is a haven for those with any type of challenge. However, this Internet indulgence is leading our kids down a path towards seclusion and isolation.
The Internet does not build confidence, or teach social skills. It does not improve self worth or poise. Instead, it’s a waste of time. Some researchers have even gone so far as to state that our children are simply not developing social skills, as they should; nor are they likely to.
Why are we hurting ourselves?
The Internet is taking away from our family time, from our personal time with friends, and is corrupting our children’s development. What could possibly be the appeal? Control. The Internet offers both complete freedom as well as total control.
We control what we do, who we see, where we go, who we engage with. If something goes bad, we unfriend them, block them and start over. In the meantime, we surf the web and engage with our virtual friends on shallow, superficial levels. Despite the lack of meaning these exchanges have to offer, we continue to choose them as they are safe. We are in total control. In person, we never are.
However, these virtual relationships and interactions also offer very real setbacks. They are less than, lacking and inadequate. They offer very little if anything to us on any personal level. People who struggle in social settings or who suffer from social anxiety are often those who hide in the virtual reality the most. It is easy to see the very real appeal for them.
However, withdrawing socially and interacting too much online is unhealthy. It’s simply a way to enable that unhealthy pattern, that challenging disorder. There is no room here for real growth or personal development.
Finally, the last reason we insist upon turning to the Internet for friendship is sheer laziness. It is very easy to get lost on social networking sites creeping behind the scenes, commenting here and there, occasionally posting. It is also very easy to lose time during online games, online movies, and the like.
he Internet has a never-ending supply of activities and information. Its size and abilities are mind boggling. These days many are declining from organizing that get-together and instead chatting online or gaming together online. Hours that used to be spent in face-to-face interactions are now spent diligently typing away.
The Internet’s Claim to Fame
After reading about netheads, Internet addicts and hermits one could question the use of the Internet? It’s clear that the faults are abundant. However, the Internet has a major claim to fame. It is an equal playing ground. There are no boundaries; religious, racial, ethnic, geographic or otherwise.
Within the scope of the Internet, one is able to interact with others from backgrounds very diverse from our own. This allows us to grow, learn, gain new perspectives, broaden our horizons and do the same for others. This is no small task and should not be overlooked.
So what is an Internet user to do?
The Internet is not inherently evil or good. It is a tool and should be used as such.
Limiting computer time is critical. Decide ahead of time how much time each day to devote to computer exercises and follow it.
- Decide exactly how much time you want to dedicate for each activity.
- Shut the computer off if not using it.
- List the things you enjoyed before you got a computer. You may rediscover a previous interest.
- Create an online-free day each week.
- Dedicate yourself to becoming more active within your friend group, family and/or community.
- Lastly, pay attention to how you are feeling when you seek out the Internet. Is there a pattern of you hiding online when feeling depressed or socially anxious? Seeking help may be useful.
The Internet is one of the greatest, most dangerous and overused creations. Remember, it is nothing more than a tool. Life is worth living- in person.