Saturday,19 January, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1380, (8 - 14 February 2018)
Saturday,19 January, 2019
Issue 1380, (8 - 14 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Communications overdose?

Amira Elhamy investigates the impact of social media on today’s personal relationships 

The impact of social media on today’s personal relationships
The impact of social media on today’s personal relationships

A political incident takes place. Most of us won’t wait for the 9 o’clock news on the television to find out about it. Almost unconsciously we grab our phones and check the news online, maybe on Twitter or Facebook. 

You post a new profile picture on Facebook, and then you check in to see how many likes your new photograph got. This might indicate how cool or popular you are, or how handsome or pretty you look in the picture.  

A friend tells you she wants to introduce you to a potential husband. You might not wait to meet him. The first thing that might pop into your mind is to check out his Facebook profile to have a glimpse at his photograph albums to check him out and get an idea about his hobbies, likes, activities and the places he has travelled to. 

There’s no doubt that many of us are now socially conditioned to use social media in almost every aspect of our daily lives. We get bombarded every day with an apparently endless number of messages from the groups we join. Our phone gets filled up very fast with pictures sent from family and friends on WhatsApp. 

We also send zillions of emojis daily, and a phone call to check up on a friend might be substituted with a photograph that reads good morning. A birthday wish could get substituted with pictures of a cake, a flying kiss, and a box of presents.

Many researchers today have argued that social media tools are not really efficient for communication as they lack emotional connection, decrease face-to-face communication skills, convey inauthentic expressions of feeling, diminish understanding and thoughtfulness, cause physical interactions to feel disconnected, and even facilitate laziness. 

Said Sadek, a sociologist, says that social media and the new communications technologies have advantages and disadvantages. Among the former is that they reduce boundaries between people. “Facebook can connect people with their school friends and relatives who live abroad, for example, and it also helps people to find out the opinions of others very quickly,” he said. 

“WhatsApp, a mobile application, also makes communication much easier. Because of the road traffic we have to deal with, it can be complicated for friends and relatives to meet. WhatsApp can thus be a useful connecting point between people. Sending people birthday wishes, congratulation notes, interesting quotations, and funny videos helps friends and relatives to maintain contact with each other,” he added. 

In Arab societies, which may be quite conservative, social media tools can give people more space to express themselves and pass on information. For example, in the case of possible marriage partners a potential bride can find out much more about the man she might marry by checking out his Facebook profile. Facebook also gives people the chance to expand their acquaintances outside geographical boundaries and widen their social circles. Video applications like Skype and Tango can give older people the chance to stay in touch with sons and daughters living abroad.

But social media tools also have disadvantages, and Sadek notes that privacy is an issue on Facebook, where expressing certain political opinions might also create problems. Fake accounts are another problem, and some people may use the pictures or information of others in a dishonest manner. 

Social media tools might also actually create distance between people, helping to build bridges but not helping people to bond. We have all seen family members or friends get together, and then for each of them to spend the time checking his or her mobile phone. 

Farida Abdallah, a 65-year-old Cairo resident, said that for her the disadvantages of social media outweigh its advantages. “It robs me of my time,” she said, adding that social media could stop people from engaging in real-life activities. There is also a privacy issue related to applications like Facebook, she said.  

Heba Hozayan, 34, considers social media to be a major source of distraction. The over-use of social media tools can stop family members from spending time with each other, she said. Even when they go out together friends might stare into the screens of their phones without chatting with each other. 

“I believe this makes real communication more complicated,” Heba said. “Though in terms of advantages social media tools can be good platforms for businesses and entrepreneurs to advertise, and they have helped many people market their products,” she added.

Ahmed Seddik, a 38-year-old entrepreneur, commented that “some social media tools have major advantages, outweighing their disadvantages. I use Facebook to share knowledge and to learn, for example, and it puts me in contact with researchers and businessmen, making communication much easier. It has helped me a lot to promote my business. WhatsApp is also an important tool to communicate with the global community and has become almost indispensable,” he said. 

There is no doubt that the new social media tools have pros and cons. It is up to us to find a balance in how we use them. We should constantly ask ourselves who is in control. Do we have control over social media, or does it control our lives? 

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