Social media and social connection

How did we lose social connection through use of social media? And can we get some of the human connection back?

Social media and lost social connection

The launch of social media

In 2007 I joined the ranks of facebook after much resistance to the many many invitations I had received over a year or so. What finally wore me down? I had been living far from many of my friends and family for years. In fact, because I’ve grown up in a transient “forces family“ I’d always had friends and family that I lived far away from.

My dad was of a member of the federal police force and both of my grandfathers were air force. My girls’ dad joined the armed forces when my oldest was just a toddler. We moved around the country a lot. I had friends in the town I attended secondary school, and across the country in the town where my first daughter was born. Family were scattered from coast to coast to coast and abroad.

Connecting across the miles

This new-to-the-world platform seemed like a great way to reconnect with some of those friends. When I joined it was still very much a place for university, students and graduates, but soon became much more broadly used.

It was really fun seeing what our connections across the nation, continent, and eventually – the world, were up to. Photos of friends’ and cousins’ children, homes, and favourite activities. Status updates of new jobs and other accomplishments were interesting and made the world seem a little bit smaller in scale.

But it wasn’t until the opportunity to reconnect with a few long-ago once very close friends that I had lost touch with came about that I truly embraced social media.

Lost social connections

It’s ironic. That which once gave us an opportunity to rekindle old friendships and connections has since become one of the largest contributors to lost human connection. While, I haven’t completely abandoned the platform – as I have with some other social media networks – it is not a space that enhances my connections much anymore. At least, not in any significant way. The truth is that the growth of the network and its monetization harms human connection more than than it enhances.

Much like popularity contests of high school, the quest for likes and reactions – collecting friends and followers – the filtered view of our lives – our living for the selfie moments – and the fact that news feeds are filled more with sponsored and suggested posts, than with the activity of our actual friends… has caused me to spend less and less time on these platforms. Even more ironically – the rekindled friendships that caused me to embrace social media have once again become dying embers.

social media and the dieing embers of social connection

Today social media has been found to be the cause of anxiety and depression among many – but especially among teens.

So what is there to do about it when it has become the norm to meet people online, rather than an in person? Is there a way that we can go back to putting these platforms to used to enhance our social connections?

In-person connection and in-between online interactions

I volunteer with our community theater and I’m part of a production about once/year. Generally, a cast works together for about 4 to 6 months before the show goes on stage. Many of the crew are involved in the background and then begin interacting with the cast later in the production. Once the show wraps up, we have a big cast party, then set strike the following day. Then we all move on, until the next show.

Something different happened recently. I believe it is partly to do with how the group used facebook messenger to remain connected. At some point conversations moved from our facebook group to a group chat in messenger. The chat remained active after the show wrapped up in November.

There were a few members of the cast involved in another production, and many of the November group made plans to attend the show together in March. That evolved into dinner and the show, then an after party for the November group. About 20 of us went together, and those of us who were part of the March show joined us at the after party later. The party host commented about how different this particular group has been in that the connection remained active long after the show ended.

Social media is a tool that can enhance connections

It got me thinking about how that group chat made the ongoing connection easier. Moving that conversation out of the facebook group where algorithms played a part in what and when we saw others’ posts made a difference. Carrying on a running conversation that any member could be part of much like happens in a room filled with people… a conversation influenced only by the participants – without ads, or suggested posts, or an algorithm deciding what was relevant for us to see and when… Those frequent interactions in the group chat, enhanced our relationships while we had an ultimate plan to reconnect in person.

Intentional use of social media can enhance social connection

I’ll be honest, I haven’t been a very active participant in that group chat. I’ve become so that I spend less and less time on my devices and in social media networks. But I appreciated that I could jump in when I wanted. That there was no extraneous noise. And that we would all make opportunities to connect once again in person.

Occasionally, the conversation headed in a direction that didn’t interest me. And I could treat it much like I do at a house party. I could mute the messenger notifications for a while, so I wasn’t flooded with talk about sports events, or I could engage in the side topics that interested me more.

We can use technology in an intentional way to enhance our social connections.

I only wish there was a way to move the needle back in the other direction – where our news feeds are filled with updates from the people, groups, and yes, even businesses we choose to engage with – rather than an algorithm choosing for us.

Let’s build a more intentional socially connected online world. Together.

How can you use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, or another app to enhance your social connections? Drop me a note in the comments!

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