Socially unsociable: A look at social barriers on campus
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 17:09
If the world were to end in the next three hours, where would you most likely find out about it? The majority would likely answer Twitter or Facebook. And as likely as not, the information would come from a source or person you’ve never even met.
Let’s be clear that this editorial is not intended as a bash on those social media. These sites are but a small component of the issue at hand. There is a growing perception in the decline of face-to-face social interaction.
Are there hard statistics to fully support this? Of course there aren't. There are far too many variables to consider in doing such a study. Decades of observation would need to be compiled in order to draw even the slightest conclusion.
It doesn’t take a genius, however, to notice that things have changed.
As you read this article, take a glimpse around Parkland College. Talk to friends, professors and colleagues. That’s assuming you haven’t put up too many social barriers of your own.
There are tons of these bubbles that students put up in order to avoid social interaction. Some students have their ear buds or earphones cranked to the maximum level. Other students either are, or pretend to be, using their mobile device.
There are even a few of you pretending to read this article just so the person at the table next to you doesn’t make eye contact.
Taking a step back for a second, cases exist where social ineptitude is classified as a disorder.
One such instance is classified as social anxiety. This is defined as emotional discomfort, fear, apprehension or worry about social situations, interactions with others or being evaluated or scrutinized by other people. The key word here is fear.
Another special occurrence is Avoidant Personality Disorder. This disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation and avoidance of social interaction.
Those, and other disorders like it, are the exception.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume we are not dealing disorders. The best question to ask first about the decline in face-to-face interaction may be, “Why?”
Associate Professor of Psychology Ted Powers provided his insight.
“You have people that will do things to insulate themselves from the outside world but they seem to be less aware of it,” Powers said. “They’re not interacting with their environment. It’s not uncommon that if someone finds a situation to be uncomfortable, that they find a safe place.”
Powers drew an interesting parallel that complemented his statements. When toddlers are placed in a new environment or around a new place, they tend to hover around mom and dad. It’s what makes them comfortable until they adapt, if they adapt.
“If you find that there’s something you can do that will calm you down and remove the stress, then you’re probably going to be doing that,” Powers explained.
Face-to-face interaction has not reached extinction. It just appears that multiple social barriers are detrimental to its growth.
Are these barriers easier to overcome if a commonality between two or more people is discovered?
It’s possible. Some such commonalities which seem to do so are race or ethnicity followed by social class.
“It seems as if race is not as much of an issue as it used to be and how people segregate themselves,” Powers said.
“I see non-traditional students, older students, rely on each other, because they have a similar experience of coming back to school. International students may be from very different countries,” he continued.
“They have the similar experience of ‘I’m not from this country, I feel uncomfortable.’ And smokers, we are the demons of society. We try to get into big groups outside and put up the shields against everyone going ‘You Bad people!’ It seems to be more of an experiential type reason for the grouping,” Powers said.
The elephant in the room, when it comes to this steady decline, is technology. The biggest factor is social media.
Social media seems to have taken a generation away from the willingness and possibly the ability to interact face-to-face.
There are differing opinions on this subject.
Mass Communication instructor Kendra McClure stated, “I think there’s a perception that social media is ruining society’s ability to communicate face-to-face.”
“When we see students in the hallway busy on their phones rather than talking to each other, it might be easy to come to that conclusion,” she continued. “But social media itself isn’t positive or negative. People use it in different ways for different reasons and experience different outcomes.”
Powers also had an interesting perspective.
“It enhances our strengths and increases our faults,” Powers said.
His argument is that if you are already a very social person, then social media can be used in such a way that social skills will develop. However, if face-to-face interaction is not your cup of tea, then social media will become your means of communication.
Those are two completely different ends of the spectrum.
McClure assigns an interesting project in her COM 101 class. For one week, students must log their media usage. The next week, they must go completely media-free, unless it’s for school or work use.
“During the media-free week, we begin each class period talking through some activities the students are doing instead of using media,” McClure said.
“They usually include things like sleeping more, getting more homework done, exercising more, picking up old hobbies, talking to friends and family members they’ve been meaning to reconnect with, and even meeting new people,” she continued. “One student this semester said she met someone new in the parking lot because she wasn’t using media to shut out the world.”