People sitting in public transport all looking at their mobile phonesI often wonder if social media is the solution for a generation obsessed with multitasking or a destructive catalyst in the decline of human interaction. I’m leaning more towards the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of praise for sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and, until recently, I have always been eager to gain more popularity by increasing my friend count, posting cute selfies and the likes. But lately, I’ve begun to question the role of social media in shaping face-to-face, genuine interaction.

Will we, in say 20 years, know how to hold a conversation with another person—in person? The thought came to me as I made my way to visit a friend who has faithfully rejected Facebook and many other popular sites. I wondered if I would still make the 45-minute trip by bus to see her if I could just message her over Facebook, or engage in conversation over Skype. Has Facebook and its substitution for real communication via picture updates and wall posts made it less appealing for us to see and communicate in the flesh?

Before I seem overly philosophical, I should clarify that I was simply going to visit my friend to talk, not to shop, not to eat or some other activity that would obviously require me to leave my home. So the question remains: what will communication look like when the wave of millennials, who have by the age of three mastered the Internet, enter adulthood?

I love that I can reconnect with high school friends and family that I don’t see very often. I enjoy seeing updates on people’s lives, their kids and the world at large. However, I sincerely wonder how much one-on-one communication will be valued in generations to come. This question needs to be asked, especially when I find myself in the middle of a dinner party of 5-10 people and all faces are hidden away in the bluish gleam of phone screens. In these moments I’m almost tempted to say “back in my day…,” but stop myself remembering I’m only 23 and “my day” was 5 years ago! It seems as though people simply cannot hold a decent conversation or they’re uninterested in doing so. Neither option seems promising, and it makes the 90s seem like golden years to us early 20-somethings. At least we can say we used to play in the streets until the lights came on.

Whenever I hear a story about a teen who’s ended their life over cyber-bullying my concern deepens. I truly believe that the lack of humanity in bullying is intensified by social media and the cyber covers we create for ourselves. In our online worlds we can be as sweet, funny, cool and cruel as we want to be. The bullies fail to realize they’re taunting real people and the victims hide behind online facades that deter them from potentially getting help. Put plainly, social media has the potential to create a fantasy world of glitz and glam when the reality is a lot darker and desperate than most let on to. People “become” whatever they want on social media. If they pick the right name, post the right pictures and say the right things, they can create a persona others envy all the while they’re struggling on the inside never getting the help they need. This all creates a breeding ground for interaction built on an illusion, it makes it really easy to cause harm to someone when you’re behind a computer screen.

It’s ironic to refer to social media as “social” when it’s often an antithesis to being really social. In fact you could call it antisocial. We should remember that being human is always at stake when we compromise real genuine interaction. There aren’t enough emojis in the world to cover the complexity of human emotions and that, I think, is a beautiful thing.

by Arielle Townsend

Image: Hello, hello, I want to talk to you. Courtesy Jane Olivier