A new sub-species has just been discovered on Earth…..Homo sapiens facebookensis. This creature looks for all intents and purposes like a humanoid, but with a mobile phone (most often a Samsung or an Apple) surgically fused to their hand. If for any reason, the phone is separated from the rest of the body, Homo sapiens facebookensis goes into panic mode as they are denied the analgesic “social oxygen” that keeps them “connected”. However, with the virtual world, you are connected but there is nothing that replaces face to face relationships. For Homo sapiens facebookensis, there is a lot of pressure to keep up with and to become dependent on the reassurance of what he or she is. They have friendships, but are they real relationships? For example, there are no facial expressions, no smiles and no intonation….just a screen with “txtspk”. Often Homo sapiens facebookensis can randomly go into paroxysms of delight or black depression as a result of a Facebook comment or Tweet, to the bewilderment of anyone with them.
Addiction to social media is subtle but far-reaching in that it interrupts and undermines the quality of reality. Adults invented social media and handed it to young people, and now the consequences are worrying. Fundamentally, we need to help young people to be alone and have the self-confidence to be happy with being alone. Aloneness is something that we all need to deal with at times. Homo sapiens facebookensis can feel alone within this on-line barrage of social media. Sometimes people say things online that they wouldn’t say face to face. Cyberbullying is endemic, causing many people to lose their confidence.
So what is the alternative to Social Media? Doing activities with people face-to-face, self-development (e.g. learning a new skill or studying hard at School/College), becoming part of the community (e.g. voluntary work), reaching out to those outside your immediate circle of friends, having opinions about important issues and doing something about them, making the world a better place to be, having at least one original thought every day etc. etc. The voice of reason says that Social Media are being allowed to have too many negative effects both on individuals and on our increasingly fragmented society, despite their clear benefits.
Therefore, if you find yourself (or those you care for) dominated by Facebook and Twitter, ask yourself or them a) if social media really satisfies in the long term and b) challenge them to “switch it off”, dare to be different and enjoy themselves for a change.
Dr Jon Cartmell