The notion that the Digital Age of social media and text messaging makes people less sociable has largely been belabored, even if it is especially true on this campus. Millennials have heard enough of the clichÃ©, even if we haven’t changed our behavior, in which a group of friends sits in a room and instead of talking, they’re all on their phones or computers. An equally important, yet less-examined consequence of ubiquitous technology, however, is the effect it has on language and how this changes the ways in which people do interact with one another.
The “like” button on Facebook is nothing short of fascinating. It is an effective way to show support or agreement with a status, express the poignancy of a picture or abruptly, yet tactfully, end a conversation. Without getting into the bizarrely agreed-upon etiquette that governs social media, this feature has too many functions to have much consistency or substantial meaning.
It largely removes all humanity, emotion, and creative expression from communication. While we are so used to seeing it, if one steps back and takes the “like” button for what it is, there is a strange, hollow, robotic-like quality present.
Instead of commenting on why a particular post is interesting or notable, saying why one likes something, or offering congratulations, a simple endorsement is supposed to pass for communication or shared perception.
And receiving a like often translates into a shallow sort of validation where words of genuine affirmation would have once done just fine. Sure, not everything is worth a comment, but verbal support from others is one of the most basic needs a person has. If Facebook is truly about connecting people, why are people so prone to using this feature instead of having a dialogue with others?
The character limit of Twitter posts makes honest, substantive communication virtually impossible, which is absolutely fine as long as there is not any pretense that Twitter is bringing people together in much of a meaningful way.
Twitter basically functions to provide the most ephemeral, hasty form of posting. The Internet phrase, “garbage in, garbage out” epitomizes this medium.
It is interesting to see what certain people are doing, but such interest is generally exclusive to notable people. There is also something distinctly creepy about the use of the word “followers” on Twitter, which has nothing to do with connecting people. While Facebook “friends” is not the most accurate word choice, it doesn’t have nearly the self-absorbed connotations that are abound on Twitter.
Similar to Facebook’s “like” button, the advent of the hashtag is exceptionally repulsive, and this feature invites unmediated narcissism. Why state a well thought-out opinion when you can write one or two measly and arrogant sounding words? Hashtags also cater to a distinct “in-group, out-group” dynamic – read anything with a hashtag followed by the words “problems, life.”
While this probably sounds curmudgeonly and trivial, the effects that social media have on communication are important, especially as they become a more invasive and integral part of one’s everyday life.
The quality of our thoughts can only be as good as the quality of our language, and social media has largely dumbed down or removed both the user’s language and thoughts.
Likewise, life can only be as meaningful as the relationships one has with others and when it’s easy to see everything happening in a friend’s life on social media, it removes much of the necessity to communicate face-to-face, especially with those one doesn’t see in person on a consistent basis.
There is evident value in social media, whether to share news or to actually communicate with friends. The problem is not inherent in its existence but rather in much of its format. If the “like” button, character limit or the hashtag were taken away, there would certainly be more and better-developed communication.
As social media becomes a more important part of contemporary life, one must remember that not all forms of communication are created equally. There is a time and place for communicating on Facebook, writing a tweet or text and talking on the phone, but nothing beats personal interaction.
Online Editor Ross Fogg is a College senior from Fayetteville, Ga.
Illustration by Katrina Worsham
The Emory Wheel was founded in 1919 and is currently the only independent, student-run newspaper of Emory University. The Wheel publishes weekly on Wednesdays during the academic year, except during University holidays and scheduled publication intermissions.
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