In keeping with the technology in psychology theme, the current blog aims to decipher whether social media is a truly a useful addition to our lives or if it is becoming more of problem than it is worth. Given the rise of the internet culture, almost all of us with access to a computer to smartphone or tablet, engage in some form of social media use. Whether it’s sharing our thoughts on Twitter, reconnecting with old friends on Facebook or searching for prospective employers on Linkedin, social media is playing an increasingly prevalent role in our everyday lives.
A recent study carried out by researchers in the United States and published in the Journal of Individual Differences, aimed to explore ordinary individual’s opinions on the apparent advantages or disadvantages of social media use in their lives. Lead by practicing Counselling Psychologist Susan Belangee, this research team, conducted a survey and found that the majority of individuals perceived social media to be advantageous for accessing and contributing to professional and educational resources and opportunities. However their results also revealed mixed opinions regarding the usefulness of social media for human connectedness, with individuals being divided over whether the advancement of social media has led to better connectivity through increased human contact (albeit online) or if it has led to a significant decrease in human connectedness through a lack of in-person communication.
Research in this area is picking up momentum, and has moved towards examining each of these relative advantages and disadvantages as well others, in closer detail. So far the research supports those opinions that emerged in Belangee and her team’s study – we really are communicating with a wider collection of people online, however the concerns regarding the quality of this communication are extremely valid. Research has demonstrated that a reliance on social media can contribute to increased isolation and significant interpersonal difficulties in the real world.
In terms of further disadvantages, social media has been widely publicized as being a hotbed for online harassment, with the negative effects of cyberbullying and “trolling” well understood. Social media use has also been shown to be associated with decreases in productivity (statistics suggest a large proportion of employees and students spend up to one third of their working day on some form of social media), more frequent miscommunication of information, and negative outcomes resulting from ill-advised social media participation (i.e. regretful posts).
In terms of its further advantages beyond its ability to provide us with increased worldwide connectivity, social media has been demonstrated to have a number of advantages related to business, education and professional development (e.g. free marketing). It has also been shown to be a significant facilitator for real-time communication. For instance in times of crisis, people have relied on social media to share news about the event. This has included relaying information that they are safe to loved ones. The potential for social media to supplement how we communicate is therefore vast and limitless. Nevertheless, care should be taken in how we use it. By maintaining a level awareness of how we portray ourselves online and how much time we spend there, the benefits of social media use may be fully realized.
Ms. Niamh Allen, M.A. B.Sc.