Smart phones, Social media and the changing world

words by Jack Simpson

On average, the modern person residing in the Western hemisphere would spend around a full day per week on their phone. That’s not including other mediums such as laptops, computers, tablets or even gaming consoles. This has, of course, changed a number of aspects of our lives for the better. For instance, in 2014 the ALS ice bucket challenge helped raise awareness of the genetic disorder and ultimately raised a healthy $115 million for further research. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was also spearheaded by social media campaigns which ultimately lead him to success in that year’s presidential campaign. Barack Obama isn’t the only politician to see the physical benefits of social media – it’s actually become common for political campaigns to focus on social media networking and other digital and internet-based mediums. However, it is partially for these reasons that our use and application of social media and smart phones have developed into a camouflaged burden on our society.

The world at our fingertips

This phrase has never been so evident. Humans have now got the largest database to have ever existed, much of which is accessible through one’s smartphone. It is estimated that over 2 billion people will have a smart phone by the end of 2016, which is an amazing concept considering that an estimated 3.5 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day and 1.3 billion live on less than $1.30 a day.

 We have access to a boundless array of information on any and all subjects known to man – but the fact that we spend an extravagant amount of our time on the internet browsing through memes and cat videos only emphasises our wasteful misuse of this gift.

Conspiricisms aside, the thought of a population informed on relevant global problems poses as an obviously much more conducive society. If this were the case, we might even save the planet and have fewer people dogmatically claiming Muslims are taking over the world. It has been said for many years that ‘knowledge is power’ and if society as a collective would become just a bit more knowledgeable about the world as well as exercising our new found political power with the keyboard, we would be finally setting off on the long road to a utopian world.

The internet’s paradox

We are currently experiencing a large scale globalisation through the internet’s usage with people from all four corners of the globe. However, is the internet really accommodating for our innate need to form human bonds to thrive? Or is it in fact reducing human bonds to lols and emojis?

Studies done in the USA have shown that on average the number of close friends people have has decreased from 2.94 in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Although this alone may, understandably not appear as surprising (because of the rise in usage of social media), the number of ‘socially isolate’ individuals (people with 0 close friends that they can confide in) has double since 1985 to 25% – and that certainly is very surprising. Other studies also show that people have more than double the number of friends and acquaintances on social media platforms such as Facebook than in real life.

These figures indeed suggests a major paradigm shift in human connection. Where as in the past, generally socially isolated people would have been forced in a way to find human connection in the real world; now they can gain connection, comfort and safety in companionship from a screen. In a sense, for certain seriously ‘socially awkward’ individuals, this is generally a positive. It gives them the ability to fulfil human impulses necessary for a good quality of life, without actual face to face social interaction. However taking this into account, it also makes people who otherwise would and could have formed genuine human connections settle for internet companionship. One problem with internet friendship is that humans do not just communicate verbally, but 93% of human communication is through paralanguage (the non-lexical component of communication). This means that 93% of the way we communicate has been stripped away. If we go back to the aforementioned statistics, that means way over a full day (we spend 24 hours a week on phones alone) of our weekly communication is without the main body of communication. If we carry on with our current trajectory of increased use of social media and smartphones, as a human race our ability to communicate effectively – arguably partially what makes humans humans – will ultimately be reduced to lols and emojis. All in all, not only may our ability to communicate complexly be vastly reduced, but the amount of actual face to face human communication we do is also suffering.

It’s not that social media, smartphones and the internet are a burden to society. It’s the frequency and the way in which we use them. If utilised in a more effective way, we can elevate many burdens of human existence. Disenfranchisement from political problems, apathy towards social suppression, and a lack of general knowledge to make our planet a more idealistic place to live are all issues that could be oh so simply combatted if we began to utilise the internet to its real potential – a potential that amounts to much more than just mess and cat videos.


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