Does Facebook Make Us Isolationally Dependent

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Updated: May 02, 2022
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If you are like me, your usual social media activity consists of keeping up with friends, sharing memes you find particularly funny, keeping up to date with local events such as concerts or festivals, and even using it to find new music that went under your radar for too long. Social media is a powerful tool today and almost everyone who is connected to the internet, or reading this online, has a social media account. Statistics show that in 2017, 71% of the worldwide internet users were social network users, and in 2016, more than 81 percent of the United States population had an account of some type.

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These numbers are expected to increase by 240 million by 2021. So, why are there this many people using social media? A simple answer would be enjoyment and desire. As humans, we desire many things, and social media gives us plenty of opportunities to indulge. One of the main desires we get to experience over our social network is community. Being alone is something that most people aren’t fond of. We want to feel as though we are a part of something. Instead of joining after-school clubs or going to church, Social media allows us to select, or even create our communities. The communities we choose are not limited by location or size. Our communities in the real world have open and closing times.

They are also usually dictated by a single person. However, in the digital world, we have our unique niches where we can be accepted and have a sense of belonging. Belonging and being accepted brings us a sense of self and Identity without restrictions. In a paper written by Danah Boyd, titled “Why Youth Heart”, she points out that with the use of technology, teens have been able to socialize in unregulated public while being located in adult regulated physical spaces such as homes or schools. This is a huge part of social media. This desire for self-identity in the real world is widely influenced by parents and guardians. With the help of social media outlets like Myspace, Facebook, and Instagram, the ability to express ourselves (or even create our own identity) without parental guidance, has let us create our image and feel as though we have our own identity. Social media is commonly seen as a good thing. It makes us feel good when we get our likes from a picture we posted. However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. With social media, the detriments seem to outweigh the benefits. The most common way kids and teens communicated in the ye’ olden days was by landline phone. Some kids would talk to their friends on the phone for hours after school. This soon became a thing of the past when texting became more prominent. Kids and teens in 2010 would send around 50-100 text messages to their friends a day. This decreased talking face-to-face with only 33% of the texters being in the presence of one. In an article titled “antisocial networking?” written by Hilary Stout, she talks about the pew research center that has been focusing on the intellectual development of kids and teens and how technology may be affecting the closeness of relationships. “Initial qualitative evidence is that the ease of electronic communication may be making teens less interested in face-to-face communication with their friends.” A lack of face-to-face communication can cause core problems in developing and sustaining relationships. “Many of today’s youth may be missing out on experiences that help them develop empathy, understand emotional nuances and read social cues like facial expression and body language,” says Hillary.

Missing out on important periods in your life can lead you to be socially awkward or have feelings of low self-esteem. These feelings can lead to isolation in certain people. Social media is increasing these self-loathing feelings as well. While people are spending most of their time on these platforms, the lonelier they feel. Studies carried out by a team of researchers have published an article in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine comparing Perceived Social Isolation (PSI) to the amount of time one spends on social media. They selected 1,787 US adults aged 19-32 and measured how many times a day they used social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, and Reddit. Then they measured how much time each individual had spent on the site. Their study has shown that the participants with the highest level of time spent on social media compared to the participants with the lowest time, had more than 3 times the odds of having a greater Perceived Social Isolation. This means that if you are a person who spends a lot of time on social media, the greater the chance you have of feeling lonely or isolated. Feeling isolated in the real world can lead to one constantly attempting at staying connected. People that are isolated feel as though they need to have more connections. This in turn has an unhealthy addiction-like circle that can spiral out of control. After all, social media is built to be addicting. Big social companies such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are among the leaders in social media activity. With numerous amounts of people logging in daily, they know how to keep their users hooked with features that keep young adults and teens wanting more. According to Facebook’s head of marketing in North America “The average person checks their phone approximately 30 times a day, and that number significantly increases with the younger cohort, the millennials, who are checking their phones over 157 times a day.” She then states that “Assuming you are sleeping about 7-8 hours, checking your phone 157 times a day would equal out to 10 times per hour.” This adds up to about 145 minutes a day where people are trying to stay connected, have a sense of identity, and be a part of a community.

This digital addiction gets a bit darker when you look at exactly what these features are and what they do. When you play a claw machine, you use a mechanical claw to win a prize. However, the chances of winning are different each time. You might not be able to get the prize you want and you know it can pick up the object you desire, but you need to keep trying to win. The same thing happens when you check Facebook for likes on a picture you posted or shared. A picture you thought would get a lot of likes, may turn out to receive none. According to former Google designer and ethicist Tristan Harris, this is known as an Intermittent Variable Reward. Intermittent, in this case, means irregular. So, just like the claw machine, you might not receive the prize you wanted. Just like the lack of likes on your picture. Most features on social media use this method of keeping you hooked but there are different ways of keeping you “connected”. In the Facebook messenger app, Facebook is exploiting a thing called Social Reciprocity. When you have received a message or sent a message, you are alerted when it has been seen or read by the other person. This makes the other person want to reply because they know you know they have read it. This makes you more likely to check back a few moments later to read the reply. With the same parts of your brain firing, the “someone else is typing” icon influences you to wait for their message.

In a Vice article written by Julian Morgans, he was able to contact the co-creator of the “Like” button and ask him what the most insidious form of social media manipulation is him. He responded with Push Notifications and says, ‘The vast majority of push notifications are just distractions that pull us out of the moment.’ ‘They get us hooked on pulling our phones out and getting lost in a quick hit of information that could wait for later or doesn’t matter at all.’ With all of the harmful tricks and features that companies are using today, it is safe to say that social media is dangerous in large amounts. Companies are exploiting basic human wants with simple algorithms and rewards. They are putting billions of people at risk of addiction, social instability, and emotional development. Take a step back and enjoy your time offline. Social media is there to keep you hooked. There is an entire world other than the one online that is filled with interesting people. You never know who you will run into in the real world. Stop staring at your screen and go out with friends. Get out and have a meaningful conversation. “Social media is an amazing tool, but it’s the face-to-face interaction that makes a long-term impact.” 

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Does Facebook Make Us Isolationally Dependent. (2022, May 02). Retrieved from