Social Media as a Supplement to Conversation, and Why Bots are the Actual Threat

// Posted by on 02/01/2014 (6:01 PM)

This week, I have found the question of whether or not social media makes us lonely to be of particular interest. Most of us agree that we are generally too “plugged in” to our devices- we are constantly checking our e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to name a few. This need to reach for our phones particularly occurs when we are actually sitting alone somewhere or if everyone else is on their phones as well. Doing this make us feel more in control of the situation and less like an outsider. So is social media isolating us or bringing us closer together? The following link is to a Ted Talk given by Sherry Turkle that I watched last semester for my “Advanced Theories of Interpersonal Communication” class, which discusses many of the points she makes in her New York Times article, “The Flight From Conversation.” While I understand Turkle’s main argument that we are in a culture of “being alone together,” I agree more with Tufekci’s argument that social media is just one aspect of communication that is meant to enhance connection, not replace conversation.

I agree with Turkle’s claim that the “sips of connection” we get through texting and social media do not substitute for real conversation, but I do not believe they are meant to do so. Indeed, forming a true relationship of any kind with someone via social media would be futile as you do not get an understanding of one’s true character strictly through those types of interactions. However, it cannot be denied that social media and texting have enabled us to maintain our relationships with friends, family members, and significant others while we are separated by distance. Even though we may look at their Facebook pages while we are apart, that does not mean that once we are reunited we do not engage in conversations about things that happened since we last saw each other. For the most part, I believe Tufekci is right in saying that “the people Turkle sees with their heads down on their devices while on a train somewhere are … connecting to people they deem important in their lives. They are not talking to bots.” Turkle also claims that social media and texting ruin our ability to self-reflect as we can edit and delete things before posting and sending them as opposed to fumbling in real time and exposing our true selves. I find several things puzzling about this claim. If we are taking the time to think about our responses to texts and editing pictures to post online, I believe there is a certain degree of self-reflection happening through that process. Personally, I do not post photos to Facebook or Instagram purely because I want others to see them, but rather because I can look back on the pictures to serve as a nice documentation of my life. In this sense, having photos online and writing tweets can be compared to having a modern diary of sorts. Also, taking a bit of time to think through a response to a text can be a good thing as sometimes it can save you from overreacting. The ability to reflect and think about an appropriate response is a learning process that can foster maturity. While Turkle notes that people are taking the time to edit responses, she also says we are demanding responses much faster due to these technologies. Features like read receipts that tell you when the other person has read your message or text can drive one crazy if they do not get an immediate response. Thus, there is a paradox in Turkle’s argument as she claims we take the time to edit ourselves so we can’t fumble in real time, but we also demand quick responses. Surely we are bound to expose our true selves if we are responding quickly to someone, thus maintaining that element of real time.

Turkle and Tufekci both address the prospect of bots in the future, and whether technology and social media should be lumped into the same category. Having just read From Counterculture to Cyberculture, I think it is undeniable that the culture fostered by these advances in technology has prompted people to wonder how far we can take it. However, I do not think it is right to place social media and technology in the same category. To me, technology is the actual iPhone, iPad, laptop, etc. It has many capabilities, however these would be meaningless if people did not want to access social media. Social media sites are websites, whereas iPhones, iPads and the like enable us to access these sites on the go. One could argue that the rise of social media made smart phones and iPads more appealing as there was now a need for their capabilities. When the iPhone first came out, I thought it was silly. I wondered why I needed to have my camera, phone and iPod all in one when I already owned each of the separate goods. However, now that I’ve owned an iPhone I don’t know what I would do without it. Bots, on the other hand, seem like a very strange concept to me that I do not believe would be healthy. After every quote in Turkle’s article from people saying they want to learn to have a real conversation, or would like a bot to get love and life advice from rather than a human, I could not help thinking how weird they sounded. Technology and social media are not a substitute for real-life relationships and conversations. I agree with Tufekci’s claim based on her research that correlation does not equate to causation. Those who are dependent on technology and social media to the point that they are lonely or prefer it to actual interactions are probably more introverted people who would be socially awkward even without social media. I believe social media was created with the intention of it being a supplement to in-person communication, and a way to keep in touch with friends, family, and loved ones despite distance. Conversely, bots would be created with the intention of being a substitute for human interaction, and I think this is where technology crosses the line into becoming dangerous to human interaction.

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Eliza said...

As I think Tufekci makes valid points to support his argument, overall I disagree with it. Turkle’s beliefs about social media resinates much more with my points of view. I totally agree with her that our phones are totally becoming replacements for conversations. I look at my parents and they are much more skilled in their ability to have “small-talk” than I am due to the fact that they did not have their mobile devices holding them back. I wish our generation was able to put their devices down and enjoy everything going on around them. I know when I am sitting at an awkward dinner table, my immediate thought process to make myself feel more comfortable is to reach for my phone. My cell phone should never replace the potential conversation I could have with the people I am with. Turkle’s argument, in my opinion, is very accurate. It is about time that we put down our phones and being having meaningful and indepth conversations with one another and no longer with our devices.

// 02/02/2014 at 10:57 pm

Alexandra said...

I agree with a lot of what you are saying in this post. While many of us use our devices are defense mechanisms during uncomfortable situations, I do not see that as issue. Previously if you felt uncomfortable with something that you were experiencing most often, people would simply suffer through it until they had the opportunity to physically talk to someone about that experience, but not we have the ability to reach out to our loved ones whenever we need support and guidance. I think it is one of the greatest benefits our society has gained from social media, is that you are able to receive guidance and comfort from whomever you chose regardless of their physical location. Whether I need to talk to my sister in North Carolina, my Mom in New Jersey, my best friend from high school in Wisconsin or any of my friends here in Richmond, I am able to do so.

What I find is missing from Turckle’s argument on being alone together, is how little our current society values the importance of being alone. Often time I feel as people discredit alone time and judges those who seek to spend time simply on their own. I feel that those who do not seek out alone time are in jeopardy of losing their personal sense of independence. While technology has created the incredible ability to connect with people all the time, I think it also easily allows us to never do this alone, which is not always a good thing. Especially in the college setting in which your peers are constantly around you, I think it is important to do this alone sometimes in order to maintain the sense of independence that can be lost due to technology.

// 02/03/2014 at 12:49 pm

Rachel said...

I think you definitely make a good point about the issue of supplementing vs. substituting. Like we talked about in class, even those of us who thought social media was having a positive impact on relationships all agreed that if someone were on their phone or talking to a bot when actual human interaction were an option, that would be strange. But since Tufekci seems to think that is rarely the case, it seems like it could stay a good supplement to face-to-face communication.

// 02/03/2014 at 1:43 pm

Cora said...

Cassandra, I think you make some good points in regards to the importance of technology to keep in touch and how social media has become a modern sort of reflection. I also, however, think you are giving individuals of our generation too much credit it terms of their maturity and understanding of self-relfection. Self-reflection comes from within and, in my opinion, should be totally separated from technology and social media. This is simply because you are picking and editing the content that you expose to others, whether it is or isn’t a true reflection of who you are in real life. It seems silly to “self-reflect” based on what you post on the web because those aren’t real experiences you’ve had or relationships you’ve formed. You refer to twitter as a kind of “modern diary” and while I agree you that it serves as a vice for expression, I think that expression is, often times, superficial. People who tweet choose their words carefully- they are overtly aware of others judging it and how they might come off depending on what they say. This form of public expression is moderated and therefore becomes less genuine. Similarly, the large majority of people post pictures on Facebook for others to see. These selective choices of what is available to the public eye are judged on their ability to attract other people and what they “say” about the person posting them. You mentioned you post pictures because you genuinely want a documentation of past adventures and experiences, but then why not make a personal photo album? You would still be able to share these memories with close friends and family in person, so why bother putting them on Facebook? I am not saying that I have never posted an album to Facebook, nor am I judging those who do so on a regular basis. My point is that people use social media to come off as a certain way to others. Maybe they are being themselves and maybe they aren’t- those who know them personally are the only ones who can tell. You also discuss texting and how “the ability to reflect and think about an appropriate response is a learning process that can foster maturity”. Although you may become a more “mature” texter, I hardly think you taking the time to edit your responses will have an effect on your real-life growth and maturity, especially when dealing with people face to face. If our world was completely virtual, which it could very well be soon enough, then I would see more value in your idea of growth gained through expression through technology and social media. To me, the two are more interconnected now than ever. Although, as you stated, social media may have been created as a supplement to in-person communication, I think it is increasingly becoming a substitute for most. Why have an uncomfortable, real, or unpredictable conversation with someone when you can create a controlled one where you and your emotions are protected?

// 02/03/2014 at 8:30 pm

Piper said...

There were many things in Turkle’s TED Talk that resonated with me, such as the fact that we sacrifice conversation for connection. I agree with Cassaundra that the “sips of information” that we get from social media are not meant to replace conversations, but, rather supplement. However, like Turkle, I think that sometimes we sacrifice the chance for conversation because we feel that connection satisfies that need. Turkle believes in what she calls the “Goldilocks Effect”– that we want to control our online presence and our connections in a way that is “not too little, not too much, but just right.” Maybe sometimes that connection through social media and through texts does satisfy that need (like how Turkle was comforted by the text from her daughter), but I think it could be damaging to rely on social media and technology– as one can cross the line of supplementing to substituting. One cannot fully learn and understand each other through texts, because during face-to-face conversations we witness the slip-ups and the tone of voice and expressions that give us more insight into the person. On social media, one can edit and control the information that is presented and seen, so that it is “just right” and their image is controlled.

On another note, I am somewhat puzzled by Turkle’s belief that “loneliness” manifests from social media. In some ways, I think that the people that believe that “no one is listening” would still have this dilemma whether social media existed or not. Maybe they are introverts and have trouble connecting with people, and so social media provides this outlet for them where they feel like people are listening. However, I have a problem when people use social media like this and too heavily—regarding serious things or revealing a struggle. For example, the anecdote that Emily described under “The Great Debate” about the girl who announced her suicidal thoughts on facebook. It is sad that some people really rely on social media to sway their self-esteem and to feel “less alone,” when a simple solution might be to get out there and connect with people in person.

// 02/03/2014 at 10:33 pm

Claire said...

The point that Cassaundra makes in saying, we are not connecting with bots, but connecting with people who we deem valuable to our lives is a true statement however the merit it brings to our lives can be argued. It is important to develop and strengthen these relationships that are so crucial to our lives but what can be argued is the constant communication necessary and if its necessary is it a shield against other interactions . In some ways does it lead to a loss of skills when interacting with strangers? When sitting alone at an airport you can see hundreds of people bored, waiting, and all on their phones. People in the past when caught in these situations learned how to deal with boredom and in many cases this was through random interaction with strangers. Will our children in 20 years be able to interact with a stranger in an airport without feeling incredible uncomfortable. More than likely they will never get that opportunity because they will be glues to their phones connecting with the people they deem important. We are missing out on spontaneous social interaction and perhaps even limited our social circle in this respect. From reading the Malcolm Gladwell book “The Tipping Point” it touched on how much informal connects play on creating you network and enhancing your life. Gladwell argues that informal connections will in the end be the ones that make a huge impact on our lives. If we are so selective with our contacts we will miss out on expanding our network and informal contacts. So while maintaining these close relationships is beneficial, we also have to think about what were giving up and how limiting ourselves and in essence putting up a shield of an iPhone will hurt us in the long run.

// 02/03/2014 at 11:27 pm

Molly said...

I also agree with Cassaundra that technology does allow us a medium to enhance connection, however I do not fully accept that is doesn’t replace conversation. I am not saying that people no longer conversate in person, however, I do think technology has massivley effected not if, but HOW people communicate in face to face conversation. I think that physical body language such as eye contact are essential to really connecting with someone and developing a strong relationship. I think a conversation is much more then a few words exchanged on a screen, but more so the combination of both verbal and non verbal dialogue. Dating sites or the popular app “tindr” provide a way in which people can talk, and essentially “get to know each other” through cyber world before probably even laying eyes on the other person. If and when you decide to meet, you may feel as if you’ve already established a relationship with this person, however this person could be very different in person then how you perceived them through cyber space. As I’ve said before in a previous post, I think people cyber and real life identitys are separate entities. A tindr page, an Eharmony profile or any form of social media outlets, are generally just snippets or as Turkle called them “sips” of information, controlled by the person behind the screen, as people include what they want and omit what they don’t. its not a full representation of who this person is, rather how they choose to appear.

// 02/04/2014 at 1:17 am