Glued to our smartphones

Glued to our smartphones

Monday, 18 february 2019 | Brenda Rodríguez López

We are waiting for our turn in a crowded restaurant. At the tables, friends and couples are paying attention to their conversations. Nonetheless, these conversations are not being held in the dining room, but on their respective social networking sites. From time to time, they look at their companions to remind them they are still there, but sometimes that's not really true. What happens on the screen of their smartphones is too interesting not to pay attention. At another table, a young man waits for his partner who is now in the restroom. Meanwhile, he decides to use the time for something. He lifts the cell phone with one hand, looks at the screen and changes his position again and again. His odd and erratic movements are reminiscent of the ones that a snake makes when is dancing enchanted by a flutist's tune. Seconds of observation are enough to understand that what the ophidian-boy is trying to do with such determination is to take the perfect picture, a good "selfie". At the bar, the manager tells a waitress that she can go. Her workday has just finished. Before saying goodbye, she already holds her smartphone in the hand. To what extent are social networking sites changing our social behavior?

 

The high number of academic studies that analyze the close relationship between social networking sites and the modern style of life is a proof of the impact that they can have on our society. One of the most recent studies in relation to this topic is the one that was carried out by scientists from Stanford and New York University. Their experiment consisted of analyzing the effects of logging out of Facebook on 2,844 users during a period of four weeks, in particular, in the one prior to the last elections in the USA (November). The conclusions which were reached by these experts were mainly the following:

  • Disconnected people experienced a greater subjective well-being.
  • These users reduced the rest of their online activity, for example by using other social networking sites less, and they also increased their activities outside the Internet with dynamics such as watching TV or interacting with family and friends.
  • The users who took this break also followed the news more calmly, and this fact could contribute to being less polarized on certain topics.
  • The experiment resulted in the participants becoming less interested in using this social networking site after the test.

The good and the bad of social networks

Recently, the media have talked about another study on the behavior and use of social networking sites, which was carried out by the University of Michigan. In particular, their analysis underscored the relationship between the intensive use of platforms such as Twitter or Facebook and risky decision-making, which is also characteristic of drug addictions. The mention of this last data is not trivial, the relationship that users have with their social networking sites can be treated as a disease in the most extreme cases.

Having said this, it might seem that social networking sites only bring about problems to their users. But this article is not intended to undermine the reputation of contemporary digital communities. The emergence of these social networks has marked a turning point in our society and, of course, a  large part of their success is due to their multiple benefits:

  • They connect users with people they might not otherwise know.
  • They help maintain contact or recover it after years of estrangement.
  • They enable communication in real time, instantaneously, without geographical restrictions and for free.
  • They serve as a letter of introduction and foster networking (on the other hand, their mismanagement might contribute to missing a job opportunity).
  • They are a continuous source of information and entertainment.
  • They help solve doubts and concerns about personal, professional, academic and commercial issues.
  • They make possible the construction of communities of people who have the same interests.
  • They serve as a means to denounce social problems and promote activism.
  • They enable communication with the brands to be real and bidirectional.

 

Glued to our smartphones

New phenomena in social networking sites

All these aspects shape a society which is increasingly connected, global, interactive, impulsive and engaged. This new social and digital context serves as a breeding ground for the appearance of new phenomena in social networking sites. For example, the enormous access to information they provide causes disinformation due to the excess of information, this effect is known as infoxication. Another interesting phenomenon is the so-called social challenges. It is about overcoming a popular challenge on social networking sites, and then sharing the result on them. The Spanish Police has recently warned of the risk that these challenges can have when they are taken to the extreme, such as when people try to take a "selfie" in dangerous places.

Encouraged by immediacy, viralisation capacity and the general lack of analysis and contrast, some users and digital media are publishing news on the social platforms in which they omit information on purpose or that are directly false. These are the so-called fake news. The goal of their diffusion may range from questioning somebody to trying to influence electoral results. In fact, the study that has opened this article would confirm the influence that the use of social networks can have on the polarization of the users' ideas.

Another remarkable phenomenon in the universe of virtual communities is the proliferation of the so-called trolls. The trend to impulsivity which was exposed in the study of the University of Michigan is partly reflected in the behavior of many users on the Internet. They are people, usually anonymous, who make offensive, humiliating, defamatory or sarcastic comments on social networks. John Suler has already defended in his article The online deshinhibition effect that anonymity, invisibility, asynchrony, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination and the minimization of authority on networks have an influence on the fact that people act with greater intensity or strength that they would do it in person.

Social networking sites have also led to the emerging of new characters such as youtubers or instagramers. In some cases, these users focus on developing an informational or didactic work through exhaustive tutorials (see the case of the youtuber Jaime Altozano). In others, it is more about taking on the role of aspirational models. They are known as influencers, and their activity has already become a job. Their presence in social platforms has helped to create a new profession, as it had happened before with community managers.

At The CEU IAM Business School we are aware of the fact that, in order to achieve success in a commercial strategy on social media, it is necessary to count on a global vision about the sector. That is the reason that has led us to design our Master's Degree in Digital Marketing, which is aimed at professionals who want to specialize in the communication and the online marketing of products and services.

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