Social Dilemma: Does technology connect or isolate?

In today’s society, technology is embedded in the lives of nearly every human being. Technology began nearly two million years ago when the first stone tools were made. Now, it has evolved into something almost bigger than ourselves. From iPhones to Tesla model cars to television, technology has provided many useful benefits around the world and has saved many lives. It also allows many the ability to keep in close connection with one another, which allows the building and strengthening of relationships. Or does it?

According to a Nielsen Company audience report, the average person in the United States spends approximately 10 hours and 39 minutes each day on technology. While technology can allow for more day to day opportunities, it may have more negative consequences than previously thought.

Many can attest that the most harmful thing to come out of technology is social media, which includes Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, among others. Social media allows people all across the world to create and share content with the public. With that comes many different consequences. Social media allows users to like, share, and comment with others, but it has also been discovered that spending more time on specific platforms can lead to feeling socially isolated.  One significant problem resulting from this sharing on social networks is that people portray their lives as unrealistic and perfect which can cause others to compare their lives to these utopian snapshots and feel upset about their current lives. This can lead to a poor sense of self, stress, depression, and anxiety because they do not have the “perfect” life that is portrayed by many people online. Conversely, social media can be a place filled with hostility and fake news. The Internet is filled with mean comments and negativity and has become a breeding ground for angry, unhappy people to troll others.  Social media enables this behavior and empowers these bullies because they can hide behind their keyboards and ridicule others with a certain amount of anonymity.

The dangers of social media affect all age groups, but researchers find more concerns in children and young adults. In a recent study by the National Center for Health Research, 13% of 12-17 year olds report having depression and 32% report having anxiety. In 18-25 year olds, 25% report to have some sort of mental illness issues. Researches are not fully certain that these issues are due to the effects of social media; however, these statistics have increased since technology was introduced to younger generations. Children are receiving iPhones and iPads at such young ages that they do not know life without them. Instead of playing outside or reading a book, kids want to spend all their time on their electronics. What is going to happen to our future generations?

These topics are thoroughly discussed in a new Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma. People who work for or previously worked for social media outlets voice their opinions on social media and its effects on people’s lives. Many of those interviewed in this film discuss how social media began as a force for good, but it is not the case anymore. This film touched on how it has greatly affected young adults more than any other age group. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates for girls ages 15-19 have climbed 70% since the early 2000s. Another statistic from that source is even more concerning. Suicide rates for girls ages 10-14 have increased by 151% since the early 2000s. These percentages are just from the past 20 years when technology began to grow tremendously. The Social Dilemma gives us this information to help educate us on the significant impact technology has had on our generation and many more to come if people do not address some of these negative consequences of social media.

The community of Archbishop McNicholas has also been affected by social media, especially since researchers are seeing the effects of it in younger adults. Social media has affected the way the students interact with each other throughout the school day, especially in the cafeteria where the impact of social media is obvious.  With just a quick walk through any lunch bell, one can see that the majority of students are on their phones instead of communicating with one another. Even though students have the opportunity to interact with one another at lunch, many choose to stay connected to their online communities, with earbuds in and isolated from the community just feet away from them

Director of Education Technology Emily Materna said, “[Technology] was meant to be positive, but I think overall it’s negative. As for teenagers, I just see a lot of issues arising just from social media.” She also stated, “I think social media can be addictive. I do think it has some really negative implications for our society.”

Technology, especially during the coronavirus, has connected one another in a time of isolation. When the world was in quarantine, people turned to their electronics to continue their education and employment, as well as get the latest information on the pandemic. Without technology during this global crisis, the world would not have been able to connect with others as quickly and effectively. Humans are social beings and when quarantine took place, it was social media and the Internet that allowed others to connect and feel less alone.

“I think over the past few months we have seen that technology can connect us more especially during lockdown in March and April. I think people were using technology in really creative ways to connect with family members,” Materna said.

The debate on technology and social media’s effect on the world is unceasing. Technology definitely is a betterment to society; it provides easy information access, new innovations to medicine, and better means of communication. Without the Internet, the world would look very different. Nevertheless, it has caused its share of problems; instead of dealing with uncomfortable situations, people turn to their devices for comfort. Individuals are finding solidarity in something that also has the ability to make them feel isolated. Do the advantages of technology outweigh the negative consequences that accompany it? There may never be an answer this this argument. Yet, the world needs to shed light on the negative aspects of this technology so to mitigate its consequences on future generations.

Social media has many platforms that allow people to feel connected to different communities, but that is not always the case. Technology can be dangerous, isolating, and overall not conducive for mental health.  

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