A few weeks back, Mashable ran an article recapping a TEDTalk by MIT professor Sherry Turkle describing the erosion of social convention that social media and technology have provoked. I thought this was an interesting discussion to share on Twitter so I tweeted it with the headline, “Does social media make us less social?” The lone dissenting voice of Cammi Pham wrote me back, “no it doesn’t.” From the surprising number of “dislikes” of Dr. Terkel’s video on YouTube, it appears that many people agree with Cammi.
It’s very easy to accept an MIT professor’s words at face value, but something about Cammi’s assertion rang true for me as well. Her words made me contemplate the idea that sociability may not have the same meaning to a younger person than it does to someone who didn’t grow up immersed in these tools.
In Dr. Turkle’s speech she mentions that social media provides an “Illusion of companionship,” that it inhibits that “development of the self,” and promotes external validation of feelings. Many of the stories in the speech are anecdotal, but one presumes that there is sound research to substantiate many of her points (particularly with her book Alone Together published on the same topic).
As I listened to her talk. it seemed that some of her sensibility was (necessarily) rooted in the past. I don’t think this a bad thing, particularly for a social scientist. After all, social media is a fairly revolutionary development and there haven’t been widespread studies on its long-term effects. Her point of view comes from examining a new phenomenon with the data we have available., in other words her work is good science.
Cammi’s viewpoint is representative of a generation that has seemingly always had social media. Posting and consuming content is second-nature to these “millenials”. Because of this, the context for their social interaction is different: possibly more succinct, less intimate, and more frequent. Despite some of the correlations that Dr. Turkle draws about social media consumption, I would postulate that there are some distinct advantages to maintaining a high number of these superficial relationships but it will be many years before we know. There may be other benefits to our hyper-connectiveness that we won’t understand for a long time as well.
I’m not a psychologist or a millenial, but when either of these discusses “sociability,” there is a good possibility that they are discussing two slightly different concepts. And while I don’t pass judgment on the merits of either, I think Cammi Pham’s sentiments reinforce the fact (as Dr. Terkel also admits in her talk) that social media tools are the new context for the majority of our social interactions. And as Dr. Terkel discusses at the end of her talk, our capability to maintain our traditional relationships depends upon the extent that we choose to deploy these new social tools into our lives.
(btw – If you are not connected to Cammi Pham on Twitter you are missing out!)