When does social become anti-social?

Being in the business of social media, we like to believe that it helps bring people together, incites communication and debate amongst large groups of people, and simplifies access to that communication. These remain true, and can be backed up with a plethora of hair-raising facts and figures like 71% of online adults use Facebook.

However, at what point does social media become anti-social and impinge on our intrinsic instinct to interact with other human beings in a real-life environment? Everyone has that mate that is always looking at their phone and never listening to a word you are saying. If you don’t, then I hate to be the bearer of bad news – that person is you!

Feeling inspired by the Immediate Future company vision and roadmap meeting last week, I feel that our mantra helps me define this point more effectively. ‘Social media has FUNDAMENTALLY changed the way that we communicate’ – we all know it to be true and accept it as fact, it is not going away and not going backwards – it is here to stay.

However, it is NOT the be all and all. Now, at IF, we are usually applying this mantra in a business environment for brands, and referring to a need to tie up the digital and offline marketing channels and not use social in silo. However, this is true on a personal level too. At what point did a group WhatsApp message become a worthy replacement to actually speaking to your friends?


Social media psychology

Social media is now having a significant impact on people’s psychological states – there is a necessity to showcase and brag about what you are doing with life, forcing every picture of you on top of a mountain, at a party, or petting a tiger to surface almost daily on social media. If you had one of all three, you can guarantee that is going to remain your profile picture for quite some time.

We are all guilty of this form of social bragging, but it just cannot be that everyone is always doing awesome stuff…we can’t all be Dan Bilzerian. However, worse than constantly updating your network of acquaintances and strangers about how damn awesome your life is every day, is when your ‘online self’ takes on a life all of its own.

Shows like Catfish have shown us the blatancy of people just pretending to be someone else online. But what is the psychological impact of people that representing themselves online but engage in deceptive, fraudulent behaviour to increase the perception of how fun, brilliant and fulfilling their life is?

There is something incredibly anti-social about the thought of someone spending hours in a darkened room, sat behind their smartphone crafting an online story of how exciting and extroverted they are as a human being. There is a fair argument that social is your shop window and you may use it to display your best or more notable work and achievements. However, it should still remain, to some degree, a reflection of yourself, should it not?

The other side of the psychological coin is the constancy and urgency of conversations. Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and the like have taken text messaging to the next level, where you have an open and constant line of communication; a never ending dialogue.

I am envious of the days of my parents, where my father would go away on business and my mum might get one phone call from the hotel phone during the week, but it was commonly accepted that they would catch up on his return. This no longer happens. Instead you get to hear about your other half, your friends’ and the rest of the worlds’ day like a running commentary.

It is surprising that we have anything to talk about at all when we do finally speak to people face-to-face. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the ‘waiting’ and ‘delivered’ symbols of messages, like the 3 bubbles on the iPhone and Whatsapp’s blue ticks are causing anxiety, as people track whether their friends are reading messages and wait with baited breath for a response.


To end on slightly lighter note, how can we minimise the anti-social impact of social media? Here are 5 tips to give you a chance to reclaim the ‘social’ part of social media and de-digitise your brain:

  1. Schedule your tweets

A simple tip, but using a format like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to schedule your social posts means that that you can look your friends in the face in the pub rather than staring at your lap whilst they break the news that they just got engaged.

  1. They still make books

It may surprise some people to learn that there are still books in production. The same goes for newspapers, road signs and all the other traditional things that people used to use to gather information. Try looking up from the screen in your palms and you will see some of them still exist.

  1. Honesty is the best policy

No one believes that you climb Kilimanjaro every weekend, sleep on top of a large pile of playboy models, or are friends with Robert Downey Jnr. If you’re going to brag on social try and make it realistic at least. No one wants to celebrate mediocrity but there is nothing wrong with showcasing what you actually doing with your life – within reason. Crazy idea: if you’re having a bad day, DON’T TWEET! Attempting to convince the world you are always having the time of your life is both unrealistic and damaging to your own mental health.

  1. Don’t wait with baited breath

The little ‘typing’ icons in messages, the double blue ticks in Whatsapp etc, are all things to get over excited about. Either turn these types of notifications off, or simply stop caring. Sometimes people are just too darn busy during the two and half minutes you’ve been waiting for a reply. And it isn’t down to some deep-seated inner-hatred they have held for you for years that they have been waiting to tell you through the medium of delayed replies on social media! Who knows, perhaps they have embraced some of the thoughts in this blog and are doing something other than looking their phone.

  1. Take a Detox

There are a number of Digital Detox type companies around now that offer you the chance to take screens, phones and all other digital devices out of your life for a period and get back to living. I am yet to do one, but seems like it could be a plan before you lose your mind, punch a hole through your screen, or tell all your twitter followers to kill themselves like Man vs. Food star Adam Richman.

So, I will end where I began. Social media is a wonderful and life changing thing that allows you to connect and communicate with people on a previously unprecedented level. However, there is a tipping point – never should real life social interaction be replaced or squandered away in replacement of the digital form. Engage common sense, and let’s not lose the personal interactions that make us human.

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