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An Impersonal World: Social Interaction vs. Social Media

Since Andrew Weinreich’s Six Degrees in 1997, the social media revolution has all but replaced physical social interaction. Two-and-a-half decades later, young men are women are much more likely to communicate through text messages, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or Facebook posts than to actually converse in person. In this article, I will discuss my view of the impact of this paradigm shift in interpersonal relations.

Smartphones are so prevalent in today’s society that you would be hard-pressed to find someone without one either in their hand or readily available. Even young children can be seen scrolling through the posts and messages of their friends on a daily basis. Technology is becoming a pandemic in its own right.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I do appreciate the advances we have made. No one can deny the value of having a world of information available at your fingertips but I believe we are losing something in the process. Perhaps I’m just nostalgic for a different time.

In my day, I loved to socialize with my friends at school. Now, thanks in large part to COVID19, many children either attend school online or are home-schooled. I’m not knocking either approach, but I believe traditional schools enhance social development.

In my day, I looked forward to finishing my homework so that I could go outside and play with my friends. We would ride our bikes to the park, play board games with neighbors, build forts, and create our own adventures. Now, many children spend their evenings playing video games, watching YouTube, or chatting over social media. While they are still in contact with their friends, it is not the same as face-to-face interaction.

In my day, if you wanted to start a relationship, you would get out and meet people – churches, game rooms, bars, clubs, even the mall or a roller rink. Now, many people turn to online dating through apps like Tinder, OkCupid, or eHarmony. While there is a benefit in knowing more (or at least thinking you know more) about a person of interest before going out on an actual date, it does not allow for the same spontaneity and initial chemistry.

In my day, when we wanted to speak with family or friends, we went to see them, called them on the phone, or wrote them a letter. Now, we send text messages and emails. In fact, I have witnessed people sending a text to someone who was sitting right next to them. As with the difference between a hardcover novel and an eBook, there’s a difference between a written letter or verbal conversation and a truncated, emoji-ridden text message.

The Impact

In my opinion, I feel this shift from physical interpersonal relations to virtual has exacted a heavy toll. In many ways, people are becoming more and more detached as technology advances. Where we were once empathetic and attentive, we are now aloof and disinterested.

Why is this happening?

It’s happening because we are seeing everything on a screen and becoming numb to the content as a result. From births and deaths to marriages and graduations, from nights out on the town to what they had for dinner, our friends are all sharing details on an almost constant basis. Depending on how many friends you have on your social media platforms, you could literally spend an entire day going through their posts.

As a quick example of the deterioration of empathy, a very good friend of mine passed away two days ago. If I were to share my grief on my social media platforms, I might get a few sad-face emojis and a couple of “so sorry” text messages. In the past, I would have reached out to a few friends and family members and they would have taken me out somewhere to celebrate my friend’s life and to comfort me over the loss.

Another disconcerting aspect of the impersonal approach of social media is the impression it gives the viewer. Take an author asking his friends to support his new book by downloading it for FREE and giving it a review. Those who see the post may think, “oh, he’s got thousands of friends; no need for me to waste my time since I’m busy looking for the next funny cat video.” Of all your friends, perhaps two or three will respond out of a thousand or more. If this were a face-to-face request, the response would be far greater.

Finally, there is the problem of information overload. Realistically, about 5% of your friends see about 5% of your posts. Why? Because people rarely look through a person’s profile; instead, they check their newsfeeds for recent posts from all of their social media contacts. Most of your posts sink into a vast sea of updates on favorite bands, places traveled, meals prepared, birthday wishes, and just about every other detail people can share. Add in the fact that some of your friends go days without checking their social media or quit looking after scrolling through a few posts and your urgent updates or requests never reach your intended audience.


Go visit a friend or family member and have an in-person conversation.

Write a letter to someone you care about and put it in the mailbox.

Whenever possible, have your children put down their phones or gamepads and go outside to play with their friends.

Instead of sending a quick text message, take the time to phone your friend.

One week a month, focus on direct contact over the superficial virtual option.

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