Commentary – When social media is unsocial media

Richard Froese

Social media seems to be coming more prominent in the lives of people, especially youth and children.

“Kids getting too much screen time” is the headline of a story in the Edmonton Journal on Aug. 27 that tells the negative findings about children and social media.

Children and youth are spending too much screen time which is hurting their skills and ability to initiate and build true genuine relationships, the story describes.

Why do these people prefer to communicate in a “phoney” way, with their mobile gadgets and focus on “phoney” relationships?

A lot of the problem stems from the fact that when a child is staring at a screen, they tend to block out the physical environment around them, says neurotherapist and doctor of psychology Dr. Mari Swingle. She authors the book i-minds: How Cell Phones, Computers, Gaming and Social Media are Changing Our Brains, Our Behaviour and the Evolution of Our Species. [New Society Publishers, 2016]

Another sad trend she says is that teenagers seem to ignore in-person conversation and instead communicate by social media, even if they are in the same room or close by. As a result, these youth are not learning adult social skills, Swingle says.

Humans were created to be in physical community, communicating in the presence of each other. Why are people not using the greatest, closest communication tool and talk to each other?

Is the younger generation becoming more impersonal as they grow apart from true genuine physical relationships? That could lead to more and more distance between people, weaker families and communities. Parents play a key role to ensure their children are using social media in healthy and positive ways. During the graduation ceremonies for St. Andrew’s Catholic School in High Prairie on Aug. 27, Big Lakes County Reeve Ken Matthews gave graduates a point of advice with a double meaning that applies here.

“You need a soul mate, not a cell mate.”

He was referring to a jail cell.

But when I heard that, I immediately thought of a cell phone since many people seem locked in with their mobile devices in some sort of segregation, incarceration.

Like anything in life, use social media in healthy productive ways that build positive connections and hurt nobody. It seems that people are treating their cell phone like it is their heart, the lifeline of their life; they need to take it everywhere and keep it on, even when they are with other people.

Before the advent of cell phones, we survived very well without them. Everybody should be able to cope in life without them. When people are present around you, that should be your focus and attention, not your pet rock that cell phones have become.

When I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, parents of the day often stated that too much time in front of the TV was hurting them. Now, the onset of social media is doing more harm than TV as people become more disconnected and disengaged people in the real world.

Hardly a day goes by in the news media without a story how somebody was victimized by or through social media or posted something they later regret.

Social media will never substitute for real social and emotional connections, Swingle says.

For those who take their device everywhere, go into digital detox and abstain from non-emergency screen time for three days, or a week and realize you can live without it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

You will find life truly more social.

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