Social media, no doubt, has helped to exacerbate the existing status quo that is associated with the modernity of Western Civilization family dynamics. What was once a commonality, a binding thread of the proverbial “sit down dinner”, with the gathering of a family unit and the sharing of their daily events; it now seems something of the past. Within the framework of “quality time”, the values of familial solidarity and the reinforcement of kinship from dinner gathering, has lost its social value in this present age. Although a generalization to some extent, everything now is about being on the go, on the run, about the self. Technologies with social media on the helm have only reinforced and aided this truth, while undermining the benefits of traditional socialization.
As part of my endeavor to better understand the influence of social media on interactions, relationships, and family dynamics, I sought the opinions of fellow co-workers (Cater Waiters at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx) who represent a wide range of ethnic, religious, and sexual orientations and are of various age groups, in order to get a more global/ holistic perspective. With that said, I have chosen to give them pseudonyms in order to preserve a state of anonymity when quoting them in this blog.
Moving on, there is a significant loss of meaning within Western culture that has been promulgated by the advances of social media platforms into our daily activities. I remember a time for example, not long ago, when eating dinner as a family unit or going camping, was a ritual practice that promoted the idea of unity and the value that we placed on the importance of human interaction. This in turn, would require a reciprocal exchange of a shared experience; an openness to allow another in and give of one’s time in return. Unfortunately, with the emergence and integration of social media there has been a real rift and pulling away from these “notions of the past”. It seems social media has redefined the laws of interaction in our modern Western culture; as the edicts of socialization are now predicated on whether or not you are linked or connected to a global network. Since the advent of social media, there has been an infringement on the traditional ways of relational human interaction; and under the pressure of this new competing ideology of e-relational human interaction, the modernity of Western culture is now undergoing a rapid transformation. I could speak at length of all the things knowable that suggest and verify the benefits of social media, such as real time Skype human interaction with relatives that are on another continent or the rekindling of lost loved ones by way of Facebook, or even the gains made by an expanded social graph that pay great dividends to career placement and advancements by virtue of networking, or at most basic; the gathering and distribution of information. But what I like to turn my focus to, are the more negative implications of social media and its impact on family dynamics and socialization through e-relations.
At this present moment I sit here at a café in The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, typing away on this blog, only to be distracted by a middle aged father, a grandmother, and a young boy (who I assume is no more than seven years old), sit together in silence as they feast on their lunch. The grandmother with an air of humility and quiet resolution eats her salad, but nonetheless is an attentive mother to her son when on rare occasion he engages in “speak”. But this real presence and reality of shared experience in my eyes, is really juxtaposed by the overt display of the son’s engagement and interaction between him and his android. Fixed on his cartoon there is a real sense of displaced emotions and a “hollowness” that permeates the family dynamics in this scenario. I see the “hollowness” mostly emanating from the grandmother, who seems fixed or obligated to accommodate the needs of her grandchild and her son. “Plugged in” and “connected”, the grandchild is adrift into that wonderland of the SELF, which is something of a norm now in our culture today, but when it is mirrored by the meaning of something more substantial like a grandmother who brings the whole of herself into the picture; with life experiences that can be shared and passed unto her grandchild, one cannot help but to feel the gravity of the loss of meaning and the demise of the grandmother’s status within her own family, who by virtue of time and technology has become her undoing. Cater HK stated, that whenever she has her grandchildren come over for a visit, and she goes to answer the door, they march right pass her with their eyes fixated on their gadgets or phones without really taking her in and saying “hello”. She has dealt with feelings of inadequacy, and a sense of lost. Whenever she tries to engage in the lives of her grandchildren they are more apt to disengage and quickly turn to their relations formed with those on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. She also stated she’s felt undignified and disrespected by the lack of reciprocal exchange associated with the etiquettes and courtesies of traditional human relationships, that she feels is devoid in her grandchildren. As a direct result of this, she is now faced with a sense of hopelessness and lack of purpose. Traditional human relational interactions once dictated that our elders held a level of respectability and authority (a reverence of sorts) for their ability to impart wisdom on others, but now that status has diminished in scope. “Anyone who wants to communicate in person is fast becoming a minority. More people love their machines than they do other people. These devices are a convenient moat separating people from human contact. Machines help them escape into a world where they feel safe and where other humans increasingly play a secondary role. Human contact in today’s world is fast becoming a memory.” (http://newsjunkiepost.com/2012/07/22/real-social-interaction-is-on-its-deathbed-part-i/)
Social media in many ways has been pivotal in enhancing the ego of the user at hand; it inflates a sense of worth and it enables the user to forge an identity or reinvent one in lieu of being themselves, and caught up in that world where they are accepted by the many likes they receive on Facebook or the friending of another, they become easily attached to social media in general. Their reality and their sense of identity is shaped by the platforms of social media and not molded by the traditional human interactions that would have been afforded them if they were not wholly engaged in social media for approval, guidance, or the bonding of commonalities through a social network. Cater BB stated, “It’s an easy way out from the expectations we are born into.” Perhaps this is a truly insightful statement to consider. Are many of us resorting to social media as a means to defy the expectations of what our parents or society deems as appropriate behavior or social etiquettes? Is social media a way to really paint a world more closely related to our desires which can in turn as some horror stories have shown, deviate from the social norms into areas of taboo that satisfy our need for complete abandonment without any repercussions? There was a case in which a couple of victims befell a great tragedy at a hands of a predator who according to prosecutors, “…Melchert-Dinkel met two alleged victims in online chat rooms where he posed as a concerned female nurse, using such pseudonyms as “Li Dao” or “Cami.” Melchert-Dinkel allegedly struck suicide pacts with his correspondents, who then followed through.” (http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/minnesota-man-assisted-internet-suicide/story?id=10855796)
Here is a sad case, where relations formed on social media can be life threatening and how people manipulate their identity to live out sick fantasies. Cyber bullying is another example of social media as implement of transference of hate and harm. How much of social media content is being regulated? When cases like these exist, how can we not concede to a system of monitoring activities on social media platforms? People put great emotional stock into the relationships formed online and in a way like animism, the projecting of a soul unto inanimate objects and material; social media platforms and technologies have reached a high level of religiosity among their users who can spend hours upon hours on their sites in a single day and who judge their presence (validity of existence) in the world by their ability to be constantly “linked”, “in the loop”, or “connected” (the irony of this is lol) to the world, and not “missing out” by their constant interaction with those platforms. Cater XX stated, “My boyfriend, gets upset when he loses a follower.” His boyfriend who has over two thousand followers is intrinsically attached to his Facebook, religiously, and it holds value to him, that his self-worth should be measured by it. To me, it seems that social media has become exploited and integrated into the family social dynamics to such a degree that it has stymied the flow of communication and bonding that is relevant for forming substantial relationships based on the principle that the presence of life and living beings in conjunction with interaction is highly important and valuable. It disrupts that flow and makes one to internalize their feelings rather than to be in the present moment.
According to Cater XX: When he was hospitalized and undergoing chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer, he got a Facebook message sent to him, by those he loved, instead of a visit or a phone call. He said, what he needed most was for them to show up in person and comfort him. “With social media it has become so easy to keep your distance and act like you’re in touch, when you are not-it’s impersonal.”(Cater XX) Have we lost meaning with one another?
Cater YY: A mother of three, with Christian values, and a sense of tradition, explained to me that one of her young boys over dinner, said “lol mom”, in response to something he thought funny. When she asked him, what he meant by lol, he said, “laugh out loud, duh”. She in turn, dismayed by his lack of expression, retorted by saying to him, “When you think something is funny, you laugh, you don’t say lol.” Does she have point? Have we substituted are ability to share in the human expressions of laughter, which according to Cater YY, is the best source of medicine, for hollow responses? Are we allowing ourselves to shorten our ability to exchange deep and meaningful interactions by developing acronyms in order to drive the point across? Are we not essentially curtailing the other from full engagement and self-expression in the physical patterns that is explicit say in the “belly laughter”, because we have opted to express laughter as lol. In my opinion Lol is (loss of laughter). Actual laughter when shared draws people together, it gives it a meaningful shared experience. “…there are people of Y-generation who have spoken less but typed more, who have express less but used emoticons more to replace there [sic] emotions. Technology has surpassed our human interactions.” (http://viditbhardwaj7.blogspot.com/2013/06/impact-of-networking-on-human-relations.html)
What is alarming is that statistics and research suggest that children are being deferred to by parents on what technologies to purchase. They drive the market. They are raising themselves. And do kids know what is good for them? Are they not misguided by media sources? “This is a world in which kids are very much in control of consumption,” said Stacey Matthias, founder of New York-based research firm Insight Strategy Group, speaking at the Launch Kids conference at Digital Book World 2014 in New York.
Parents are deferring to children more often when it comes to media purchase decisions, according to Matthias. Four years after the introduction of the iPad, children now have access to multiple devices in the home and they are more connected with each other through social media than any time in history. Through that access and connectivity, they share a tremendous amount of information on what they want to do what they’re always doing, according to Matthias, “Kids are always doing the work of growing up.”(http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/shifting-family-dynamics-give-kids-influence-on-more-media-purchase-decisions/) Are we not essentially allowing our children to re-educate our minds, and alter our culture when we bestow the reigns for them to do so. Have we lost responsibility on this matter; on our kids? Kids now wield greater power than they ever did before because of their early initiation and integration with modern technology and the information highway that comes with it. Of course we cannot hide things from our children but shouldn’t parents and elders be better informed about the benefits and “not so” benefits of the influence of technologies and social media before their children are indoctrinated into that world? There needs to be constant research, monitoring, detection, and awareness of advancements and trends, before parents lose all power and control to children that can lose their way. If we aren’t too late already.