What affect does social networking have on us as individuals and a society?
The majority of people participating in social networking online fall between the ages of 25 to 54, according to a new study done by the folks at pingdom.com. If you take the numbers flaunted by the most popular of these online social networks, it’s easy enough to imagine that social networking now plays a significant role in our culture and our lives. Based on the chart above, it appears that each social networking service attracts certain age groups that may cater to specific developmental life stages as well:
Intimacy vs Isolation (ages 19 to 34)
Intimacy vs Isolation is the psychological crisis worked out while still solidifying a sense of identity in the big scheme of things called life. The main task at this stage is to learn to be alone in order to learn how to truly love, and so doing, learn to deal with rejection and isolation.
Generativity vs Stagnation (ages 35 to 60)
At this stage, the task to work on is centered on the concern for the next generation, to give guidance and support through values and ideals evident in meaningful work. It is in this way that we form our sense of meaning and purpose in life.Life stages give a linear snapshot of psychological needs while motivation focuses the energy devoted to address not only the psychological, but the physical needs as well. Not a lot of growth can happen if all our energy is spent on basic physiological needs such as acquiring food, clothing and shelter.
As of 2009, the population of the US was 307,212,123. The number of people that use the Internet was 227,719,000. That is roughly 75 percent of the population. The Internet came on the scene in 1990, and within a short ten years became integrated into our daily lives across the board. It took the telephone around 70 years, and the TV took 45 years to become a part of the mainstream.
I’m going to go out on limb here and speculate a bit. That’s about all we can do since it’s not scientifically sound to ascertain what affect Internet usage has on our psychological development or social mores, what with only ten years of rapid adoption on the history books. Even the APA is leaving us hanging by, in essence, playing a reactive instead of an active role in mental health, basing classification adjustments on what has happened instead of taking a leap and projecting what will happen.
Perhaps it’s more important to point out that the changes are far more positive than imagined. The only evidence I have of this, so far, is the report that came out in early December of last year about how genuine we portray ourselves online. This, my friends, is a good sign that our psychological health is greatly enhanced by Internet usage. Congruence is an important factor in emotional and social integrity.
Intimacy vs Isolation may be a psychological crisis that draws people into online social networking. Though sitting alone at a computer, it doesn’t take long to find and connect with others experiencing the same sort of crises. Understanding and acceptance reach through the fiber optics and ease the stresses of the developmental milestone. Perhaps it is someone a bit older that is reaching out as that is the tendency in the Generativity vs Stagnation stage.
Again, I’m speculating, but what I’ve observed is a kind of escalation of what has been society’s psychological dysfunction all along. There is more depression nowadays than there was ten years ago. The most popularly prescribed drugs are antidepressants; the scripts written by general practitioners moreso than psychiatrists. Medication is only half of the accepted, effective treatment for depression, yet therapy is sadly left out. The same goes for ADHD, anxiety and eating disorders. Social networking provides very much needed support, but I fear that it is not enough, or that support is more ineffective than appropriate or effective.
People turn to online support - social networking - because very few can afford or have access to counselors, psychologists or therapists. Go back to the numbers here, and you’ll see what I mean: The gross national income averages out to only $46,900 per year. It is economics, not the recent integration of Internet usage, that has the greatest impact on the overall mental health of our society.
So, 75 percent of the population is making their way through very uncertain economic times by sitting on top of the tech mountain – as users of this technology. The Pingdom study points out that the one segment of the population missing from the numbers are the geeks that actually create the social networks. Is this another example of exploitation or domination of one small section of the population over the majority? Do these geeks have freedom of speech and empowerment of knowledge as their goals for creating these social networks?
It doesn’t matter. TV and radio were “one-to-many” communication methods, as are newspapers and books to a miniscule lesser extent. Information and knowledge are just deposited, not interacted with. Social networking not only includes this one-to-many model, but thrives on the one-to-one interaction. It is, by its very nature, impossible to exploit and dominate to the extent that radio and TV could and did for so many years.
At a Crossroad
We are now sitting at a crucial point in the growth of social networking. So far, the technology is “out there,” it is still disconnected and separate from our physical self. The technology is advancing to break through that individual distance and into the tangible.
It has been tried before, several times in several different ways; but perhaps those efforts failed because of their timing. Now, with 75 percent of us actively online, the time is right for location-specific social networking and Google Buzz is at the forefront of the latest surge.
With Buzz, you are instantaneously notified of who is close by and meet up with if you choose. You can see what others have said about a particular store or cafe and leave your own review for others to find and read.
It can, in theory, empower each one of us by giving us the ability to actively interact with just about everything.
Just imagine what it would be like! Imagine political polls and elections be a true reflection of the voice of the majority. Imagine what it would be like to be heard! Imagine the changes in accountability and responsibility!
It’s Happening Fast
Older people are the least present online, and that is a sore loss. The knowledge and wisdom they could share with us all will have to be shared anecdotally instead of first hand. It is understandable with how rapidly the Internet and social networking have barged into our lives. My own head is spinning: In my lifetime, I have seen the advent of color TV, ball point pens, microwave ovens and touch tone and then cell phones. I bought my first personal computer before they came with fixed hard drives and color monitors, and I was one of the first 2,000 people to join America Online back when it was just part of the GEOS operating system (that folded under Window’s market domination). I was among the first to teach HTML and Web design - after I taught myself.
Now, finally, the power of voice and knowledge is coming to this ‘final frontier’ we call the Internet.
We are about to experience a freedom we’ve had all along, but have not really utilized in our daily lives. After working through all this, I am now not concerned with our mental health and ability to grow and actualize.
Since I am one to grab on and take off with this new location-specific social networking, I am not able to project concerns you may have about it. In order for it all to take hold as it must, those concerns need to be addressed by all of us.
So, let’s talk about it. What do you think? What are your concerns?