Wasting Time With Strangers Online: For What Purpose and for Whose Benefit?

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With regard to social networking sites (SNSs), there is already an emerging body of literature that seeks to understand the positive and negative effects of these sites to the individual. For example, some scholars have argued that social networking sites present individuals with an opportunity to articulate a better version of oneself (Zwier et al 571), whereas others suggest that the sites are merely public spaces that leave an electronic trail that can have serious consequences for users (Russo et al 1). The present paper attempts to move further from this discourse by illuminating time and purpose considerations in the personal use of SNSs.

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Extant literature demonstrates that SNSs such as MySpace, Twitter and Facebook have become a momentous social phenomenon that attracts millions of users worldwide, hence fundamentally shifting the way these people communicate and interact (Russo et al 1). However, the problem lies in the fact that most Internet surfers use a considerable proportion of their productive time on SNSs charting with strangers, who may be thousands of miles away and may not necessarily share their interests, values or philosophy in life. At a personal level, anywhere between three and four hours of my productive time is spent either communicating with people through SNSs or texting through my mobile device. The habit is addictive and hence extremely difficult to stop due to the perceived importance of the sites as tools to facilitate communication and relationships, as well as the personal attachment generated by the structural and design characteristics of the websites (Wilson et al 173-174).

Although many users of SNSs buy into the idea that these platforms have an immense potential to fundamentally alter the character and scope of our social engagements and interactions on all facades – individual, interpersonal as well as societal (Tokunaga 426), extant literature demonstrates that “like all internet applications, overuse of SNSs can lead to an array of social, psychological, physical, and other problems for young people” (Wilson et al 174). Many students, for instance, spend numerous hours building profiles and establishing online relationships to the detriment of their physical, academic and psychological wellbeing. At a personal level, it is almost beyond reason to explain why an individual would use three to four hours of their productive time on a daily occasion to just chart with “friends” yet they supposedly “lack” adequate time to finish their assignments or attend to other important chores.

Another consideration arises from the fact that SNSs, in spite of their time-consuming orientation, are often blamed for negatively altering the framework for social interactions that bind society together. As demonstrated in the literature, many users of SNSs “apply their own knowledge about the negotiation of friendships in offline contexts to SNSs without appreciating the dissimilar social norms governing the disparate contexts” (Tokunaga 431). Such an orientation encourages interpersonal strain and fuels feelings of relational damage, anxiety, or distrust among the presumed online friends. Courtesy of SNSs, people are no longer socially connected in the real sense and no one wants to share experiences in real life anymore (Niedzviecki para. 11). This interpersonal aloofness, in my view, beats logic because people are spending so much time on social networking sites yet there is so little to show in terms of establishing actual interpersonal relationships that may serve as glue to hold the social fabric together. Consequently, it can be argued that much of the time spent on social networking sites is actually wasted.

Today, more than ever, it is increasingly becoming clear that individuals are developing negative behaviors due to their online engagements. It has been suggested that the style of reading promoted by the Internet may indeed “be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace” (Carr para. 8). Eventually, as suggested by this author, the Internet is weakening the intellectual and cognitive capacities of individuals as they now engage in skimming content rather than deep and comprehensive reading. This observation can be taken a notch higher to demonstrate how individuals are using SNSs to establish shaky online relationships that are unable to prove anything else apart from the obvious waste of time and resources. Such individuals are unable to establish deep interpersonal relationships with peers and friends, reflecting the loss of cognitive and socialization capacities.

Ultimately, SNSs provide the ideal infrastructure for the establishment and maintenance of relationships; however, more needs to be done to ensure users are able to establish deep interpersonal relationships, and that the SNSs are used for the right purpose and in the right context. Presently, as demonstrated in the discussion, students are wasting a lot of time on the SNSs without viable outcomes to show in spite of the fact that SNSs such as Facebook and MySpace have the capacity to serve as viable educational tools and integral components of their social interaction. Consequently, new research is needed to investigate how students can effectively use SNSs to support the maintenance of existing relationships and formation of new social ties, while making sure that their productivity and considerations for usage are not compromised. Indeed, it is clear that the time lost in interacting with “strangers” online could be much more beneficial if spent on studying, reading books, working, and providing voluntary services to the community.

Works Cited

Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making us Stupid?” The Atlantic 2008. Web.

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Niedzviecki, Hal. “Facebook in a Crowd.” New York Times. 2008. Web.

Russo, Charles J., Joan Squelch and Sally Varnham. “Teachers and Social Networking Sites: Think before you Post.” Public Space: The Journal of Law and Social Justice. 5.1 (2010): 1-15. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Tokunaga, Robert S. “Friend Me or You’ll Strain Us: Understanding Negative Events that Occur Over Social Networking Sites.” Cyber Psychology, Behavior & Social Networking. 14.7/8 (2011): 425-432. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Wilson, Kathryn, Stephanie Fornaisier and Katherine M. White. “Psychological Predictors of Young Adults’ Use of Social Networking Sites.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 13.12 (2010): 173-177. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Zwier, Sandra, Theo Araujo, Mark Boukes and Lotte Willemsen. “Boundaries to the Articulation of Possible Selves through Social Networking Sites: The Case of Facebook Profilers’ Social Connectedness.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 14.10 (2011): 571-576. Academic Search Premier. Web.

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