Social Media

Talking About Friending

How is social media affecting teenagers?

The topic is face time, for the younger set. A recent article in The New York Times questions whether preteens’ and teens’ preferred form of communication — Facebook-wall posts, cell-phone texting, and instant messaging — is hampering their ability to form interpersonal (i.e., in-person) social skills. Whether “the quality of their interactions is being diminished without the intimacy and emotional give and take of regular, extended face-to-face time.”

While, as the article points out, researchers believe it’s too early to say for sure, it’s an important question. And scanning the 66 reader comments to the article, it’s important not only in terms of the health of their social relationships, but in terms of how business will be conducted in the future. For the meetings industry: What value will “digital natives” (a term for this generation that has grown up using computers) get out of face-to-face events if, as neuroscientist and U.C.L.A. professor of psychiatry Gary Small says in the article, “they are weak with the face-to-face human contact skills”?
Two comments that gave me pause:
I’m long past bemoaning the very apparent negative consequences of technology on young people’s ability to form genuinely close friendships. What concerns me is what happens to American business when these kids become adults and have no capacity to sit across a table from a client or potential customer for more than a few minutes instead of the hours it often requires for business to happen? Without being able to look the other person in the eye, stopping every 30 seconds to send or receive a text message or update their Facebook page?

I hope it won’t be so but I can easily foresee a future of not only disastrous personal relationships but a stunted and chaotic business atmosphere as well. Neither bode well for our country. — “Zaphod,” New York

I am a college professor. Every year for the past five years my colleagues and I have commented on how every incoming class seems to be more socially and intellectually immature than the previous one. It’s not just my department. This is more often than not the topic of conversation at academic conferences that draw professors from all over the United States.

The internet, or to be more precise google, teaches the students that everything is a one-word answer, nothing in complicated, and nothing requires reflection or thinking. College is where we learn to ask questions, not where we find answers, so I don’t even know why they bother enrolling.

I cannot help but also wonder if social networking has contributed to the rise in students who simply cannot look me in the eye when I speak to them, in addition to the markedly increased number of students who I would readily classify as suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.

The social networking also means that they give themselves almost zero time for personal reflection. These students have no internal lives and without that it is very difficult to think and, thus, to accomplish college-level work in any satisfactory fashion. — “Cathy,” Maine

Notice that Cathy knows that this is not just her experience, because she has discussed it with her peers “at academic conferences that draw professors from all over the United States.” Face to face.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.