Barack Obama has now said what was being discussed in roads and alleys across the world. In a BBC interview to Prince Harry of England, he has warned the world about the dangerous impacts of social media. He said that social media can leave people “cocooned” in alternate realities and urged world leaders to promote responsible use of the technology.
He also said that “one of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities.” He emphasised that people should go offline, meet in a pub, meet in a place of worship, meet in a neighbourhood, and get to know each other.
In fact, people across the world have been making the same point, but actually not doing much about it. In our own society in Bangladesh, I have seen the attraction for social media has gone to the extent of an addiction. Many people have started to eat, drink, and sleep on social media.
I’ve seen couples going out on dates not looking at each-other but glued to their screens. I’ve seen how children’s study hours have reduced due to the time they spend on social media posts. Husbands and wives in the same bed no longer talk to each other, instead their eyes and minds are fixed on scrolling down the posts made by other people.
Questions have been raised about spending too much time on social media and doing actually nothing for a long time.
Well, the debate regarding this issue may take weeks in order to reach a conclusive answer to whether social media is harming society or benefiting it.
We might think that social media is allowing us to be connected to our loved ones all the time, but a recent study has found out that it’s actually making us feel lonelier. The report has suggested that if we spend over two hours a day on social networks, our chances of feeling socially isolated are twice as high.
The study was run by the University of Pittsburgh and the researchers questioned 1,787 adults aged between 19 and 32 about their use of the 11 most popular social media sites -- Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and LinkedIn -- at the time the research was conducted in 2014.
However, no matter what the studies say, it’s not yet clear whether social media causes loneliness, or whether it’s just that people who already feel lonely flock to social networks. But the crowd on the social media is increasing every second. Does that mean the world is full of lonely people?
It’s quite visible to us that the social media has alienated individuals across the world and has drastically reduced people-to-people contact in our societies.
Now, we need to do something about it. We need to make one thing very clear, that being on the internet doesn’t mean being on social sites. Internet and social media are two different things. The internet is the gateway and social media is only a platform. The internet is the access to billions of sites among which the social media sites are a few.
If we spend over two hours a day on social networks, our chances of feeling socially isolated are twice as high
In my view, it may not be totally accurate to blame the internet, as a whole, for widespread social disconnect, as I personally have been immensely benefitted by the positive impacts of the cyber world.
It has given me access to a realm of immense and new knowledge, it has allowed me to know things that I could never have in any other lifetime. And, I’m sure there are millions out there who feel like me.
On the flip side, crimes on the internet have become a new frontier for us to confront these days. Most dangerous crimes are being committed in the cyber world.
In Bangladesh, we are only in the initial stages of thinking and acknowledging the crimes committed using the internet. We’ve just set our sail on a digital ocean, which we don’t know about well.
In our digital euphoria, we may be overlooking many aspects of that world that may become a problem for us and our society. It’s also equally true that the global mad rush for digitisation may also cloud our thinking process about the effective use of the internet.
What we can embark on is to find out ways to disseminate the lessons on the ethical and effective use of the internet. I know of a company that has already started this campaign. I know some companies that have started to use technology wisely and effectively. When you go out there and talk about the usefulness of this technology, you’d see that there are many aspects that people still don’t know about.
The ICT and digitisation campaigners could think of running such a parallel campaign in all educational institutions on the importance of using all technologies wisely. They also could use the media as a tool to impart the right messages about the internet and its uses.
Digitisation doesn’t mean surfing on social media all day, digitisation doesn’t mean we should be on the internet all day. Mr Obama is right: We cannot remain cocooned. Rather, we must converse and meet people beyond the virtual world of the internet.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist.