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Is Social Media Turning Us Into The Matrix?

June 2, 2009

In eight days I’ll finish my MBA.  Great, right?  Well, without an obvious “next step” (translation = no job), I’m right back where I started two years ago.  Uncertain times like this drive me into a big picture, naturally reflective state – “What should I do with my life?” “What do I value most personally?” and “Is social media turning us into the Matrix?”

Ok, maybe that isn’t your typical what-the-hell-does-it-all-mean question, but this is a social media blog, so work with me.

Neo emerging from the Matrix looking nasty!

Neo emerging from the Matrix covered in goo.

In the Matrix all humans “live” in plugged in cocoons that facilitate all of their interactions electronically.  They see, talk, hear, feel, taste, etc through gigantic (and rather nasty) plugs that connect to their brain.  No physical interaction is necessary; it’s all done electronically.

I first noticed the Matrix at the University’s Student Recreation Center.  Everyone was plugged into their iPods or the exercise equipment, no talking, no looks, just zombie-style power walking and Stairmaster.  Everyone is in the same place but very much alone.

The Matrix also lives on the bus, where college students text, IM, surf the web, and talk on their phones.  No face-to-face interaction, only electronic communication.

The Matrix is most prevalent, however, in class.  It’s no secret that many (most?) students are on Facebook, Google Chat, Twitter, and email consistently during lecture.

Any bets on how many of these students are doing school work?

I'm sure they're all following the lecture.

This isn’t necessarily a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just an observation.  I think we can safely say that social media has increased the ability of all of us to be, well – social – at least electronically, but with networks much more diverse than we were able to maintain before.

But what price do we pay for social media?  Is social media decreasing our ability and comfort with communicating physically, through face to face interaction?  After all, when Neo emerged from the Matrix, his body was weak, he had to heal and build strength before he could survive in the real world!

While I’ve been amazed at the amount of interaction that students maintain through social media, I’ve been slightly underwhelmed by their ability to translate that electronic interaction into physical interaction.

No one talks to each other at the gym or on the bus.  In class, people might Google Chat about lecture, but not ask questions verbally.  I’ve had group members who remained silent during group meetings only to unload all their thoughts in a brain dump email after the meeting was over.  A number of my fellow students question the value of meeting face-to-face period, saying “we can all just figure it out through email.”

Could it be that the more you use social media, the more comfortable – and reliant – you become on it as a means of communication?  We all know it’s tough to introduce yourself to someone face to face, and it seems that younger generations are practicing that interaction less and less.

I spent some time researching this topic (or at least as much as could be expected from someone who is graduating in eight days) but was unable to find a direct answer to my question.  There are a number of articles posted on both the perils of social media usage in the classroom, and the potential benefits.  One article proclaims that continuous connection to electronic devices is killing face-to-face interaction, while another suggests it could actually create dissociative disorder.  I found a couple of people asking the same question, one from his video blog, and another who realized he was being unsocial while on his computer during a Superbowl party.   There is even a survey trying to figure out the answer!

Lucky for me, I don’t have to find an answer.  I can use this social media interface to ask – WHAT DO YOU THINK? After all, social media is all about dialogue and creating conversations.  So let me know:  Is social media turning us into the Matrix?  As electronic communication facilitates more and more of our daily interactions, will it decrease our real world ability to connect face to face, or at the very minimum, devalue face to face interaction?

I’m all ears – or eyes, I guess.

Jesse Thomas

jthomas@oregonmba.com

http://twitter.com/jessemthomas

facebook:  Jesse Thomas

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One Comment leave one →
  1. gsk permalink
    June 7, 2009 2:31 pm

    Good question! Part of me really wants to say no, media will not devalue face-to-face interaction. It will just increase the amount of interactions we are able to have as well as the amount of people we are able to stay connected to. The human need for face-to-face interaction isn’t going to disappear….. but then, i wonder if this is really true. Can the need for human interaction be substituted/satisfied with virtual interaction? If so, maybe social media will turn into us the matrix….

    What I do know for sure though, is that social media hasn’t yet turned me into the matrix – i still enjoy face to face interactions with friends and family and have no intentions of giving that up 🙂

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