Social Media: Blessing or Curse?

Social Media: Blessing or Curse?

Author Anthony Lee

A sample of the myriad social media applications offered today. In recent years, social media usage has surged leading to both positive and negative consequences. Photo from marketingland.com.

A sample of the myriad social media applications offered today. In recent years, social media usage has surged leading to both positive and negative consequences. Photo from marketingland.com.

7:00 a.m. Another school day at the Charter School of Wilmington begins. Students start to trickle into the school one by one, and as 7:30 approaches, the stream turns into a flood. High schoolers from all over Delaware pull up in their cars, get off the buses, and walk into the front lobby. Watching the flood come in, it’s hard not to notice how many faces you can’t see. Many in the crowd have their faces focused intently downward - at their smartphone. 

It’s not unusual to see a vast majority of people looking at their smartphone. However, what is unusual is that this scene was virtually unseen as much as five, even ten years ago. So what has contributed to the rise in popularity of smartphones? The increased advertising for these goods since 2008 and public appeal of smartphones are feasible reasons as is the ease of usage. However, possibly one of the most significant reasons of this sudden usage spike is a smartphone’s ability to open applications for social media.

What is “social media”? You will hear it mentioned in formal and casual settings everywhere. News anchors feature social media in their daily reports, and friends urge us and nag us to check our social media apps everyday. You may even have had to help your grandparents understand what “social media” is and to set up an account. 

Yet, although we may have a general understanding of what social media is, many of us couldn’t give a formal definition for it if asked. It is doubtful that many of us have even thought about what “social media” is and how it affects our everyday lives.
According to Merriam Webster, “social media” is defined to be “forms of electronic communication...through which users create online communities to share information.” In other words, it is any form of electronic application that allows us to connect with others, including those extremely far away.

Today, we recognize it in apps such as Snapchat and Instagram, but as few as ten years ago, “social media” was Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace to our older brothers and sisters. Granted, we teens may still have a Facebook or Twitter account, but they are mostly remnants of a time before our intelligent, pocket-size friends - smartphones.

Two of the latest smartphones on the market: the iPhone 7 and the Samsung Galaxy s7. Better smartphones like these have contributed to the social media boom.  Photo from businessinsider.com.

Two of the latest smartphones on the market: the iPhone 7 and the Samsung Galaxy s7. Better smartphones like these have contributed to the social media boom.  Photo from businessinsider.com.

Consider in a time frame of ten years how much social media has changed. Older brothers and sisters, now in their twenties, had to use old Android slide phones and if lucky, the iPhone 3GS, to connect with everyone on Facebook or Twitter. Just using the phones was difficult; they were smaller and a lot bulkier than today’s Samsung Galaxies and Apple iPhones. Now imagine opening and using an app on one of those - that’s very demanding in today’s standards.

Now fast forward from 2007 to now. Our phones have advanced so much that not only are they less bulky and more sleek, but their hardware and software allow us to take high-resolution pictures and upload them at insane speeds, which is why Snapchat and Instagram are so easy to use.

Any advancement in technology is bound to have both advantages and disadvantages, and social media applications are no different. The rise of social media has brought to our generation a faster access to information and better facilitation of communication; today, we can access world, sports, and entertainment news (just to name a few) through trending charts, and talk with our friends and families - both in photos and in text- all around the world at almost light speed. 

At the same time, however, all these improvements have also had some unseen side effects. Many of us rely too heavily on our phones and social media to talk with each other. Often we will talk not face-to-face with people next to us but through instant messaging applications on our phones. 

 

Additionally, our innate sense of privacy and patience has deteriorated in some ways; we feel the urge, the overwhelming need, to post what we are doing, to show our friends every aspect of our - and other’s - lives. It’s constantly snap, post, snap - often without regard to who we’re taking a picture of, whether they will like it, or even how our recipients will feel about the post.

In some ways, social media has degraded us as a civilization. As we become more technologically savvy, we become more addicted to our phones and less socially active and aware. The lenses of our phone cameras have replaced our eyes, the keyboards has replaced our mouths, and the screens have replaced our faces. 

This is not to say using social media is a cardinal sin; that would be a gross overstatement. However, we as humanity do need to rediscover ourselves from a time before smartphones and social media - what made us human in the first place. We need to rediscover our sense of awareness for ourselves and others, our sense of social activity and engagement, and overall, our sense and sensibility.

So next time, you feel the urge to pick up that phone of yours, consider what else you could do to have some fun. Go outside for once, hang out with your friends in person more, or (gasp!) even curl up with a book once in awhile. Because if we don’t and everything we do became virtual, what would make us human?

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