Social media has undoubtedly changed the way in which we communicate. Gone are the days of hour-long phone calls after 6 o’clock and screaming at people to get off the internet while manually pressing buttons on a non-portable phone. Even pieces of furniture have become obsolete, with telephone chairs now gathering dust, and a shiny white broadband modem sitting proudly in the place of a telephone.
But is our rapid back and forth on Facebook messenger the same as sitting down and taking the time to speak to someone? Most of us are on our phone while doing something else, like watching tv, eating, attending a lecture – admit it, we have all done it. We are not devoting our entire attention to the person we are speaking to, unlike when we chat to them over the phone.
Tone and facial expressions, both vital parts of communication, are lost when we text. We often misconstrue what other people mean- a jokey text can turn into a hurt very quickly. Not to mention the effect technology is having on our face-to-face interactions. According to a study conducted by UCLA, children who are deprived of screens are better able to read facial expressions compared to their peers who continue to spend time on their phones. Clear communication can never be achieved via a jumble of words and emojis on a screen.
Social media is also a space where negativity is not shared, everyone projects their “best self” online. Pictures of people attending the gym smiling, snaps of them with their significant other captioned #blessed, the glamorisation of messy nights out by filtering faces with sliding make-up; this is all accepted practice online. Because of this, we might not see what is really going on in our friends lives, they could be struggling, and we are duped by the happy photos they share. We need to remember to meet up in real life to see how people are really doing. No one is going to broadcast their problems online.
However, social media has brought about some positives. The invention of video calling has brought joy to many families separated by emigration. Years ago, letters were the only form of communication. Now, doting grandparents can see their grandchildren grow up by scheduling regular Skype calls. Skype and video calls online are free, no matter the distance, which means families can afford to talk as they are not burdened by a hefty phone bill.
Many people have also found love on Tinder, as unbelievable as that sounds. It is easier to meet people through an app than it is to pluck up the courage to chat them up in a bar. There are pros and cons to the controversial dating app… does it commodify love? Is it very superficial, considering that our judgement whether to swipe or not is based on a short bio and a few pictures? No one’s true personality can be gleaned from their online persona.
I believe that while social media has changed communication, it has not necessarily advanced it. Nothing beats a good phone call, or even better, an old-fashioned chat over a cup of coffee.
By Áine Kenny
Photo credit Billy Brown via Flickr