How The Heavy Use Of Social Media Isolates Young Adults

It is safe to say that during the last decade social media has become the most popular online activity and has become essential in the everyday lives of young adults. Over a billion people belong to Facebook alone, and over half its users log in to the app daily. In a world where Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, etc. allows you to share everything that happens in life at the click of a button, it has become easy to be virtually connected with people 24/7. It is rapidly changing how human beings interact with others. Fans of social media would say that posting, liking and commenting on statuses and photos, and sharing what is on their minds is a simple way to stay connected with people both near and far. We use it to communicate and explore with family, friends, colleagues, even politicians, while simultaneously reaching more people in so little time. There is no question that social media has flourished as a communication tool, but in today’s world, is it always a good thing? So it may seem. We see it every day, people buried in their phones or behind their computer screen, connecting with the world online but not engaging and isolating themselves from the people who are sitting directly across from them. While all of this may be true, the heavy use of social media often isolates young adults.

First, let’s address that there is possible to be surrounded by a crowd and still feel isolated. Social isolation is described as a state in which an individual lacks a sense of belonging, The use of social media allows us to be there physically without having to actually engage with the people who surround us. While young adults are sharing their daily experiences online, they are actually taking away from their enjoyment and inclusion by lowering their engagement with the experience and the people who are there in that particular moment. In their paper, Getting Closer Being Apart: Living in The Age of Information and Communication Technology, authors Dr. Irshad Hussain, Dr Ozlem Cakir, Dr. Burhanettin Ozedmir and Shaheen Ashraf Tahirkheli argue that one could communicate with friends and family who are miles apart while completely ignoring those that are right next to them. More often than not, we have all been somewhere, whether at an event, in class, at a dinner with friends and family, and have felt awkward, or not enjoying the experience and turn to social media to connect with others virtually. When we post a snap or share what’s happening in 140 characters or less at a social gathering, we are mentally isolating ourselves from that environment and taking away from the sense of inclusion. Watching videos or seeing statuses of other people in their circle having fun and connecting, could lead to young adults, feeling excluded from their peers.

Speaking from my own experience, I have been at that party or family gathering and found myself bored, awkward, not enjoying myself and have turned to social media to find a sense of belonging because I know that I can and that I have that option to communicate and connect with people who are not around. As a young adult, I know that many can relate to separating yourself from the crowd and using social media to escape immediately and allow it to distract and isolate us from the environment we are currently in. In addition to the statement previously made, we can also argue that because of social media use, young adults often feel a sense of isolation because these platforms contribute to the fear of missing out. Social media makes it very easy for young adults to feel isolated from their peers. While social media allows you to see what others are doing, it is easy to get caught up in how others living a “happy” life and cause you to feel like you are being left out. A study from the UC Berkeley Networks study managed a study to determine the association between social networking and social isolation, including a sample of young adults between 21-30 years and middle-aged adults between the ages of 50-70. The study found that although young adults have a larger network, they feel twice as much socially isolated than middle-aged adults who also engage in social networking.

As a young adult, I have experienced the fear of missing out when I see my friends back home going to parties and functions and having an amazing time, while I am in school. Although I’m not intentionally being left out, I still feel isolated because I cannot participate at the moment. Brian Primark, director of the of the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh, conducted a study on the association between social media use and perceived social isolation. With 1,787 participants, the sample included U.S. young adults between the ages of 19-32 years, and their association with 11 social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and Reddit. The study was also able to assess how much time and how often they interact with these social media platforms. By asking the participants questions based on how often they felt left out, they were able to determine how many young adults experience social isolation. If young adults feel like they are missing out because they see friends, family, or others having fun without them, they then experience a sense of isolation.

Primark found the results to be a surprise, as social media is supposed to make us feel socially connected, the study showed that the more time young adults spent connecting with people online, the more they felt socially isolated in reality. Based on the study, Primark was able to establish that the odds of perceived social isolation of young adults who spent two or more hours a day on social media platforms were two times more than those who said they spent thirty minutes or less; while those who visited social media platforms about 58 times a week, had more than three times the odds of perceived isolation. Based on this study, we can say that the use of social media drives isolation or a sense of feeling isolated. In addition to the previously stated article, Getting Closer Being Apart, the authors conducted a study focusing on answering the question, “is the use of mobile phones and social media distracting relationships or lessening the sense of belongingness with real relatives?” . The volunteer study examined 39 students and academia of the Islamic University of Bahawalpur, and Pakistan and Ankara University, Turkey. The participants in the study had used social media platforms for more than three years and spend 3-4 hours daily. Data collection revealed that people from the younger generation, feel more isolated because they prefer to stay home and socialize on their computers and phones. Though enhancing their connectivity, it is at the cost of their socialization and inclusion in the real world. Isolating their selves to their room hinders any face-to-face communication and interaction they would experience if they weren’t socializing online.

Focusing on the above argument, heavy use of social media has also hindered face-to-face communication for young adults. Social media has become a tool of isolation, hindering human communications, engagements, and interactions. One of the speculations from Primark’s study was that young adults aren’t allocating enough time to socialize with people face-to-face. Spending countless hours on social media platforms, limit the amount of time we participate in the human interaction. We know that because of social media, we can detach ourselves from others physically, while still being able to connect with others, from all walks of life, via the many social media platforms that we now have. Going back to the study in Getting Together Being Apart, young adults would rather isolate their selves at home and communicate with their friends through a computer, then meeting up with them and connecting with them face-to-face. The more time they spend sharing what’s on their mind in 140 characters or less, or posting what they are doing to Snapchat, the less time they engage and become inclusive with others. As young adults, we can’t be inclusive and avoid feelings of isolation, if we are constantly spending our time refreshing our social media timelines to keep up with people who aren’t around us.

So, what’s stopping young adults from feeling a sense of belonging? Obviously, the use of social media has its benefits and advancements; providing information, entertainment, and connectivity. Of course, we shouldn’t ditch our social media platforms because we often feel isolated or a sense of isolation, but we should learn how to be engaged and tune in to the world around us first before turning to social media to find a connection with others. Humans are social beings, and while social media platforms bring people from all walks of life together, but it consistently isolates us from the world in which we are involved in.

Based on the studies and arguments presented above, because young adults spend so much time social networking, they increase their likelihood of being socially isolated. It’s possible that social media often leads to isolation because it makes people feel like everyone else is strongly connected while they are not there experiencing the moment. As beneficial as it might be, we cannot ignore the fact that young adults can find solace in social media by detaching themselves from their surroundings and becoming absent while still being present physically.

03 December 2019
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