It’s hard to deny sites like Facebook, Twitter and the like offer us a great opportunity; the days when we physically had to approach people we wanted to charm, or take the cowardly way out and ask for their number off a friend, are over. The opportunity to find and communicate with almost anyone in the developed world is at our fingertips. Surely this connects everyone? There are no down sides, right?
But is anyone being left behind? In some ways social media can be an amplifier. What I mean by this is that whatever your social status would be without these sites, the use of social media makes it more extreme. So the confident, sweet-talking Ken from Kensington might become an internet sensation along with the stunning, innocent, selfie-addict Laura living in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the quiet, self-conscious, acne-prone teenager Harry in the Outer Hebrides who is struggling to make friends in the real world is feeling crestfallen, and thinking ‘If I can’t make it in the real world, and the virtual world is spitting me back out, what hope is there for me?’.
You might be thinking that Harry has the possibility of speaking to anyone he wants, he can just pop up to whoever he wants, he has as big a social prospect as Ken and Laura. However, many people can simply overlook a certain glass ceiling, which many won’t understand unless they’ve been in such a position, in short:-
Sometimes talking just isn’t enough.
In other words, you can talk to people you’ve never met as much as you want, but for many people it’s just meaningless unless you can physically go and talk to them and spend some time with them. Technology can only go so far as to recreate real human contact but it’s something that can never really be replaced in terms of what it means to people.
Harry’s probably tried talking to people, he might have even made a few friends, but he doesn’t have the social advantage that 82% of us in the UK often take for granted, he doesn’t live in a city or a town. Living in a town or a city can do wonders for someone’s social well-being, being in walking distance of thousands of people presents almost limitless possibilities; but often the younger ones among us, who make us a disproportionate part of social media users (around 25% of Facebook and Twitter users are between the ages of 16-24 – less than 13% of the population), who can’t drive or have no control over where they live, don’t fully understand how fortunate they are to live in a thriving social community.
The big losers include the teenagers who live in remote villages or on farms away from civilisation, who will rely solely on others to transport them to social occasions, however small or insignificant.
Now you may say these are a tiny minority, and it’s true that many of these young people may lead rich and fulfilling social lives, but of the 18% who don’t live in towns or cities, around 12% are of an especially socially-vulnerable age (16-24). An age when you have fewer commitments than you will in your entire adult life, which is just over 2% of the population, about 1.2 million people in the UK alone. Obviously this is a rough estimate and these problems won’t affect many of these people, but the fact that so many are vulnerable to this is really a sobering thought.
These people may feel social media are leaving them behind, buying everyone new trainers and them a pair of flip-flops. It’s worth sparing a thought.
I’ve focused on a very precise matter here in this article, without mentioning (until now) the huge caverns of bullying, abuse, threats, shared nudes and more which can do more than just leave you a rung down on the social ladder, but can destroy lives.
Social networks are slippery slopes, be grateful if they’re good to you, but more importantly, be careful when they’re not.