We live in a digital world and rarely disconnect from it. Facebook has 1.8 billion users, and Instagram has about 600 million monthly users. Snapchat's 158 million daily users post some 2.8 billion snaps every day. Most of us walk around with smartphones (see graph) that we use to post our statuses and get constant updates and photos from our friends.
So is there a downside to being so wired? Two experts--one a public policy researcher and the other the head of a digital communications company--weigh in.
About a year and a half ago, I attended a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, that gathered 450 "changemakers" to tackle some of the world's most pressing challenges. I thought the participants would emerge with new relationships and perspectives on complex issues such as poverty and climate change. Instead, participants spent the meeting glued to their phones, taking selfies and sharing on Facebook.
This experience is typical of a shift in values taking place in our society. Increasingly, we're spending time engaged in activities less for their own intrinsic value and more for how we will look to others if we're seen on social media doing them.
I think something important is lost in the process of sharing so much of ourselves online. Social media "likes" and new followers provide us with public approval, but this need for constant sharing of ourselves--and the immediate gratification that comes with it--diminishes the meaning and significance of the things we share. Some parts of our lives are worth keeping private.
Many of the relationships we form online are largely superficial, and the constant online sharing has psychological consequences. A handful of studies, including one recently conducted by the University of Michigan, suggest that increased Facebook usage contributes to anxiety and even depression. We are constantly seeing what others are doing and paying attention to their lives as they unfold in real time. That deepens our anxiety and uncertainty about whether we are leading lives that fulfill our own potential.
Lost in the online sharing and advice-gathering is the fundamental ability to reflect on questions by ourselves, taking as much time as we need to come to our own decisions. In short, because of our growing dependence on constant digital connectedness, we have become afraid of spending time alone.
Fellow, Canada's Public Policy Forum
Humans are social creatures, so we naturally seek out opportunities to connect with others. The internet is particularly effective in helping us do that.
The positive influence of the internet in terms of human connection is evident in many areas. Music, sports, and culture spread easily across the globe, providing powerful links across international borders. Twitter allows me to share my opinion on the issues I care about--much as I would at the dining room table. The key difference is that I'm now able to tap 3 into a global community, not just a local one.
The internet also enables people to easily engage with causes they care about--and make an impact on the world, Consider the ALS ice bucket challenge. Thanks to 2.2 million Twitter mentions and 2.4 million Facebook videos, it swept across the nation in the summer of 2015. In the challenge, people dumped a bucket of ice water over themselves to raise awareness about the debilitating disease ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The ice bucket challenge raised more than $115 million that ended up leading to a major scientific breakthrough.
When I first began researching social media in 2004, it was assumed that people who chose to interact online did so because real-world social opportunities were closed off to them. But studying teenagers who used chat rooms, I discovered a generation of digital natives who were as socially adjusted as their peers.
In fact, many studies have shown that people who connect with others online are less likely to be socially isolated than their peers who don't. One kind of digital interaction, online dating, is now the second-most-common way to meet someone. And couples who have met online have marriages that are just as strong as those who met in real life.
There are aspects of social media that cause more harm than good. But overall, the deeper connections that take place online make it easier than ever to engage with the world and change it for the better.
--NOA GAFNI SLANEY
Founder & Chief Executive, Impact Squared
LESSON PLAN 3: ANALYZING AUTHORS' CLAIMS
Lexile level: 1190L
Are We Too Wired?
YES: Emerson Csorba, Fellow at Canada's Public Policy Forum
NO: Noa Gafni Slaney, Founder & Chief Executive of Impact Squared
Analyze the Debate
1 Set Focus: Frame inquiry with an essential question: How has technology changed the daily lives of humans?
2 Read and Discuss: Have students read the debate, then answer the following questions:
* What is the issue being debated? (The issue is whether people today, who are always using smartphones to post on social media and to get up-to-the-minute news, are too connected to the digital world.)
* Evaluate why these two authors might be interested in and gualified to comment on this issue.
(Csorba is a fellow, or person conducting advanced study, at an organization whose aim is to improve public policy. Slaney is the founder of a company that promotes social activism through digital tools and other strategies.)
3 Core Skill Practice Project or distribute Analyzing Authors' Claims, and have students use the activity to analyze and evaluate each author's arguments.
* Analyze Csorba's view. (Csorba argues that constant digital connectedness is distracting and detrimental. He says that people too often choose activities for how those activities will look on social media as opposed to their intrinsic value, that some things should be kept private, and that excessive use of social media can contribute to anxiety and depression.
* Analyze Slaney's view. (Slaney argues that humans are naturally social and that the internet is a positive extension of this tendency. She says that connecting online allows people to share culture and ideas, thus creating a global community. She also argues that digital connectedness makes it easier for people to get involved with causes.)
Extend & Assess
4 Writing Prompt
In an essay, evaluate one debater's arguments. Assess whether the reasoning is valid and whether it's supported with evidence. Point out biases or missing information.
5 Classroom Debate
Are people today too wired? Have students use the authors' ideas, as well as their own, in a debate.
Once you've explored both sides of this issue, go online to vote in Upfront's poll--and see how students across the country voted.
Additional Resources upfrontmagazine.com
Print or project:
* Analyzing Authors' Claims (online and on p. T13)
* Analyze the Cartoon (online and on p. T16)
Vote: Choose a side in the debate and see instant results from across the U.S.
Caption: Smartphone Users in the U.S. Since 2010, the number has more than tripled.
Caption: Family Vacation