Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Tumblr. Pinterest. These are just a few examples of the social media platforms that exist today. 

Since the creation of Facebook in 2004, the prevalence of social media in the lives of today’s youth has been steadily increasing. Instead of enjoying time with friends and family, adolescents can be found in their rooms on their computers, or staring at a tiny screen on their smartphones, being completely oblivious to the real world around them. 

They have started to immerse themselves in another world: a virtual one.

The addictive nature of social media and the technological advances of the 21st century have changed the way we form social relationships. New social media websites come out almost every year from MySpace in 2006, to Twitter in 2008. 

We can now form friendships through social media with someone we have never met in person. We can write a wall post on an old friend’s Facebook wall, or send them a quick tweet instead of calling them up or writing them a letter. Although social media has surely made communication easier, it has also made it less personable.

Psychologist Kimberly S. Young wrote a report titled “The Psychology of Computer Use” based on the case of a 43-year-old woman who became addicted to the Internet, without previous implications of addictive behavior. The original intent of her study was to examine if, as other reports claimed, “some on-line users were becoming addicted to the internet in much the same way that others became addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling.” The results of the case turned out to show that these reports were, in fact, true.

So what is the harm in the addictive nature of the Internet and social media? Why is it so bad? For one, it can obstruct the relationship you have with your friends around you. Imagine going out to dinner with one of your friends who wants to have a nice discussion and catch up. If you were to have your eyes glued to your smartphone, fingers tapping away on the keyboard, constantly checking up on social media, your friend may feel offended and think you are uninterested in what he or she has to say. As a result, your friendship may disintegrate because they feel as if they can no longer connect with you.

Ten years ago, if someone was looking to be in a relationship, they used to go out to a party, talk to a few people, have a good time and hope they met someone interesting. Now, it is as easy as the click of a button. All you have to do is create an online dating profile, upload a profile picture, write a few things about yourself and shoot someone a quick message.

It is hard to find out a lot about a person if the communication is not face-to-face. The only way to truly know what someone is like is to speak with them, hear the inflection in their voice, take note of their facial expressions and notice how their responses and reactions. Real relationships are formed not through words on a screen that can be edited, but through real time communication.

Deception is easy through social media. It is fairly simple to create a profile that depicts the person you want to be, not who you really are. We have complete control over what we choose to share on social media and how we want others to perceive us, which doesn’t always align with reality.

Have you ever scrolled through your Facebook timeline and saw a newly uploaded photo album your friends posted of their fantastic night out? Maybe felt a little jealous and started to compare your life to theirs? This is what social media is all about: many people use social media to live vicariously through others, completely ignoring their own life.

This causes them to miss out on forming great relationships and creating their own experiences. We are so busy capturing moments of our lives and uploading pictures of our experiences to show to other people, instead of enjoying the time we have with the wonderful people right next to us.

Sometimes, it is nice to give yourself a break from the virtual world, and look around and appreciate what is around us. Next time you’re hanging out with a friend, put your phone on silent and slip it in your bag or back pocket. You’ll be glad you did.

Contact reporter Timaj Yusuf at timaj.yusuf@richmond.edu

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