My Oxford Union Speech: The Notes

Is social media corrupting human interaction?

First of all, I should say that my addiction to social media has been more of a blessing than a curse. I knew I loved being online, from being in IT class and feeling like it was the only thing I was good at, to learning how to code on MySpace when I was 13, to being signed to a literary agent via my blog. Surely, on the surface, it looks like I am going to be “pro social media” in all ways. And yet, when it comes to real human interactions, I don’t think social media helps us maintain relationships. It helps us find new friends and partners yes, but I think it gets in the way more than it helps when it comes to maintaining those relationships.

I wanted to start off with some smaller perhaps overlooked examples of how social media is harming our relationships which I know goes against the rules of opening with a big show stopping statistic. I recently discovered the word “bread-crumbing” in the context of social media. According to an article in the New York Times “breadcrumbs are always the laziest, most noncommittal communications possible.”

There’s other terms too of course, “ghosting” – when someone totally stops messaging you. or “benching” – when someone you’re interested in stops actually hanging out with you or committing to dates, but continues to text, tweet, or snapchat you. It’s making us lazy.

It’s ruining our dating lives, swiping people like they are T-shirts in a clothing sale. But it’s not just dating it’s also ruining our friendships. The “Maybe” button on Facebook is the worst, we always have a “way out” because social media allows us to be lazy, to commit less and cancel more. We are like kids in a sweet shop, and these social networks are not that old, Facebook is 12 years old, Twitter is 10 years old. We still don’t have any willpower.

One of the reasons we are so addicted to our phones because we get a hit of dopamine. Dopamine is as known as a neurochemical known as the “reward molecule”. This means that social media affects the brain in the same way that a hug does. It makes us feel good.

There’s also something called a Dopamine Loop (written in depth by Psychology Today) – which in my mind I call “the Google hole” when you can lost in the void (my “hole” is I normal Google Oscar Speeches by famous actresses for hours on end.) A Dopamine hole can also be the instant gratification by talking to someone right away, looking up information straight away, seeing what ex-colleague is doing on Linkedin. So in short, it becomes harder and harder to stop looking at your phone, your email, to see if you have a new notification or alert.

This is why our addiction to social media is so ironic. The interruptions we receive on our phones are inherently social and that is what makes them so distracting. Pamela Rutledge, the director of the Media Psychology Research Center says: “We are by nature hardwired to respond to things socially over all else, it’s a pretty compelling invitation.”

And yet, we continue to check and respond to them even during actual, real-life social interactions. We check our phones in a romantic restaurant opposite our favourite person.

According to a 2013 mobile consumer habits study by Harris Interactive, 20 percent of people aged 18-34 check their phones during sex. And nearly 75 percent of the respondents said they were within five feet of their smartphones at all times. This means that it is not exactly a human connection, and not an automated or derisive connection. Real human connection takes time.

A survey by one of the biggest dating sites Badoo, found that 39% of Americans spend more time socialising online than in person. 20% actually prefer communicating online or via text message to face to face conversation, while a third said they’re more likely to approach someone new online than off. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs proves that you don’t need that constant connection with society to survive. We do not need to keep in contact with every single person we meet – we need a few intimate relationships. We don’t need 400 friends. In fact University of Oxford psychologist Robin Dunbar said that we only have room for to 150 social friends,  50 who we’d actually invite to a group dinner and 5 best friends.

We don’t ask each other how we are any more! Facebook and other social networking sites allow us to find out about our friends “lives” without even having to talk to them – the photos they choose to upload shows you everything you need to know.

A study went viral recently by an Australian sex expert proving that couples who post more mushy posts about their relationship were more likely to break up or be miserable.

So yes it’s ruining real relationships but the motion says “corrupts human interactions” and “corrupt” can also mean “cause to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain”. Social media is full of honest people but it’s also full of people pulling the wool over our eyes for personal or financial gain.

A blogger Esenna O’Neil went viral in 2015 because she was tired of living a fake life through Instagram and was desperate for real connections with the real world. Our gadgets create an illusion of connection. We are continually in touch — but emotionally detached.

It’s also affecting our trust. Trust is one of the most important components of human interaction and true relationships. The rise of fake news and the demise of “experts” and “gurus” on social media has allowed us to trust people less.

Even though social media can be a wonderful thing for our careers (I wouldn’t be here speaking at the Oxford Union) without it. Relationships need to be maintained carefully through real human relationships not just in return for “likes”. We need to make sure we have real relationships, and not just hundreds of shallow ones.

So there’s my two main reasons why I think social media is corrupting human interaction: 1) our addiction; and 2) our breakdown in trust.

Thank you.

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