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Is Social Media Making us Less Human?

January 24th, 2011 · No Comments · Ideas

Big Ideas: Social media is isolating us from real human interactions.
Have you thought about or measured the return on your social media efforts?

The Guardian writes about author and MIT professor, Sherry Turkle’s new book, Alone Together.   Turkle offers yet another criticism of our over-use and over-reliance on technology.

The way in which people frantically communicate online via Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging can be seen as a form of modern madness.

Turkle’s thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world.

“We have invented inspiring and enhancing technologies, yet we have allowed them to diminish us.”

Social Media: The Good.

I have personally found social media to be a fantastic way to connect with people in meaningful ways. Many relationships that have started online have been extended to real world meet ups. There simply is no better way to connect with people and build relationships on an international scale.

Those relationships can be valuable only in the friendships they establish, or they can help with professional or commercial motives. Social media has changed the way we work and live. I am confident that this is only the beginning.

Social Media: The Bad

It also goes without saying that solely virtual interactions are not healthy. It is important to see social media as a way of connecting with others outside of our normal sphere of influence. Those relationships can be brief and superficial like responding to a customer service issue or they can develop into in-person meetings and real friendships. Social media is not a replacement for human interaction. It should be a way to engage more effectively with people we wouldn’t normally have a chance to connect with.

Social Media: The Ugly

The real downside of social media is when people allow it to interfere with real world connections. How many times have you eaten a meal with or talked to someone who is constantly checking their smart phone and responding to tweets, emails or Facebook updates?

Another major problem is the amount of time technology can consume. It is very easy to spend hours and hours per day writing about every thing you do and responding to as many others as you can.

In addition, how many hours do we waste learning to be more productive with our technology? Isn’t that defeating the purpose?

Look at the Twitter streams of some of your super user peers and you will see a steady flow of banal and meaningless communication. It is nice to connect with others but I don’t think we want to hear every thought and action of the people we follow.

This constant connection interferes with work and just creates noise among some of the more valuable information. How much time do you spend on non-work related social media on company time? The actual time might only be 20 or 30 minutes a day, but it also means that you are constantly distracted from what you are doing and have to spend time catching up where you left off before.


Technology and social media in particular, are allowing us to connect in unprecedented ways. We can collaborate on universal projects like Wikipedia or Linux, we can raise money for creative projects on sites like Kickstarter, we can make micro-loans to disadvantaged people on sites like Kiva. There is no question that technology is changing the world for the better. However even good things can be overdone. If you are spending more than an hour per day on social media, and that is not what you are paid to do, than you are probably spending too much time on it. How much better would your life be if you spent an extra hour a day with family or friends?

If you are a business, what is your return on your social media efforts? For most companies, there are much easier and higher return activities that they could be focusing their efforts on. Instead of spending lots of time responding to customer complaints, many companies would be better off investing in improving the quality of service. Instead of trying to create superficial conversations with others online, wouldn’t it make sense to maximize the value of the existing leads coming to your firm?

What do you think? Is social media making us less human?

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