Social media and the ever-connected world has, in a lot of instances, removed the impact of distance. For the most part this is a good thing. Connecting old friends and new, separated families and like-minded individuals who may be thousands of miles apart.
As human beings we have an instinct to want to be close to those we love. We are inherently pack animals and hold a desire to be part of a crowd, either for social or survival reasons. This is part of the reason social media has grown to be such an integral part of modern day life. People want to feel connected to each other and to the world. Detachment and isolation is not in our nature.
There are great stories of people reuniting, or building bonds through social media that in previous decades wouldn’t have been possible. This is the affect on distance that is most reported.
But social media has another affect on distance. That of detaching people from others and the effect of the comments that they make. For every story of the positive affect of social media there is a darker story of its impact, most recently coined cyber bullying or ‘trolling’.
Neither bullying nor ‘trolling’ (in the sense of its action) are anything new. Yet they seem to be all the more commonplace today. One of the reasons for this the impact social media has on distance.
As much as social media can bring us closer to others, it has the affect of distancing us from the comments we make and those we aim them at.
When children are young, they learn the affect of their comments through the reactions they receive. Cause and effect. They say something mean to another child; they receive a reaction of upset, sadness or anger. Most children don’t particularly like seeing another child in distress and so they learn not to make similar comments again as it doesn’t feel nice.
The generation who have grown up in a world of smartphones and social media don’t necessarily learn the same lessons. Social media contributes to detach them from the effect of their comments. They say something online, the effect is unseen, and the repercussions are limited. And if they want to they can detach themselves further through anonymous accounts.
So whilst we all love a heart warming story of how social media has bridged a large physical distance, we should also consider how it is distancing us from our comments and actions an more importantly, what it is doing to the generation who have never known anything different.