Phone-centric world can prevent students from having meaningful interactions

By Abby Bittner |

From scrolling mindlessly through Instagram to watching Snapchat stories one after the other, social media has made an impact on society, particularly through the relationships people have.

Social media can affect relationships people have in that it potentially impacts the amount of eye contact people have with one another, as well as simply making conversation with others in person.

To dwindle down the scope, the use of social media can affect Flagler College students when it comes to their relationships, and sophomore Jack Greene gave his thoughts on the pros and cons of utilizing media.

“I think media will help to form relationships with people across the world,” he said. “But I think it will hinder face-to-face social skills because anyone can say anything behind a screen.”

Greene, a sports management major at Flagler, believes social relationships are challenging for the younger individuals specifically.

“This up-and-coming generation is struggling with relationships because they grew up in the age of technology where you can say anything behind a screen without getting caught,” Greene said.  “Because of this, they easily suffer from insecurities and trust issues, and I think this hinders their relationships with each other.”

Jill Dawson, who has taught for 11 years and worked at Flagler for four, helps students to form social relationships on campus by discussing their interests, and further links them with clubs or individuals on campus she knows can help the student feel more at home.

She weighed in on how she believes social media can keep students more connected to home, but it can sometimes prevent them from socializing in their new environment.

“We see it kind of as a crutch, but I especially worry about students staying connected with their friends from their previous school or from home, which is great, that’s a wonderful aspect of social media, but that it prevents them from making new friends,” said Dawson, who is the Director of First Year Experience at Flagler.

She also worries that the use of social media to be productive can also prevent physical social interactions, even if it is being used with good intentions.

 “I think we view it as being productive, like, ‘I’m being productive, I’m responding to emails,’” she said, “But I’m maybe missing this opportunity to talk to the person next to me.”

In the future, Dawson sees it as vital to work with social media and students rather than push against it, as it has the capability of shaping students positively.

“I definitely don’t view any technology as evil or bad, or that we should get rid of it,” Dawson said. “I’m just thinking, ‘OK, what are the effects of these things, and how can we structure the support that we have for students to allow them to use it in ways that help them and don’t hurt them, and if it does hurt them then how do we manage it?’”

Another faculty member on campus, adjunct psychology professor Michele Fouts, notices how social media affects not just students, but individuals in general.

“I think that people are becoming less skilled and less comfortable with face-to-face interactions,” Fouts said. “So when we have only printed text to assess a communication, then we’re missing all the nonverbal signals that come with live face-to-face communication.”

Knowing the root of what someone actually means, in Fouts’ opinion, can only be discovered through face-to-face interactions.

“It’s difficult to assess what somebody really means, what they’re really saying, when we only have printed text to go by,” she said. “When we’re missing all the channels of body language, context, all the voice intonation and inflection, then we’re missing the bigger piece, and I think that that diminishes our ability to feel truly connected to other people.”

Fouts, who started working at Flagler this past August, specializes in child development and understands how the body reacts to media usage.

“I think that it also impacts our sense of regulation, in terms of the nervous system and the brain in our own body, and how that’s impacted when we have a live face-to-face interaction with another person,” Fouts said.

From a psychological standpoint, she believes that electronics overall are affecting people from being aware in various ways.

“I think that the technology we’re using as a whole, not just social media, is preventing us from being very mindful,” Fouts said. “It’s preventing us from thinking deeply, because our brains are being trained to seek constant input.”

As media is continually evolving, it can be difficult to find themselves without using any form of technology and simply taking in life as it is.

“Many people these days don’t know how to just be,” she said.  “They need to stimulate and distract themselves on a regular basis, so people are not learning how to just be in their body and be open to whatever is going around you.”

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