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Social Media and Sense of Community

March 4, 2014

By: Mary Anne Fitzpatrick

Since the mid-nineties, the Internet has exerted a pervasive influence on our lives.  Our ability to cross time and space to communicate with one another has never been easier.  Social media has changed how we interact with one another.  Many extol the abilities and insights of the “digital generation,” raised with a deep familiarity with the culture and community of cyberspace, but has the communication that occurs in this community been of high quality?  Is this form of communication building community or harming it?

A major area of scholarly concern in a number of academic disciplines is developing an understanding of the long-term consequences of media exposure and media usage to ensure the emotional health of our young people.   Scholars have warned us of the dangers of assuming we can multi-task—for example, check a text message and listen to a lecture or a friend.  Some, like Sherry Turkle (MIT) and Joanne Cantor (UW), warn us of the adverse effects of rapidly advancing technology on our behavior with and emotional attachment to one another, as well as on our ability to think and learn.  They call for us to limit our use of popular technological devices because of these adverse effects.

People in my generation have little credibility with students on the subject of the potential harms of excessive media use.   Imagine my delight on Saturday evening when I attended Status Update: An Ethnodrama.  This play, written by Kat Martin, a talented theatre major, was ably staged and performed in our undergraduate theatre space (USC Lab Theatre) in Booker T. Washington.  Kat wrote this ethnodrama based on a survey she conducted with students on their media usage.  Many of the respondents saw the value of being able to keep in touch with long distance family members, friends, and loved ones.  However, many reported that social media could be consuming, distracting, and addictive.  Some of the most poignant lines in Kat’s play were lifted directly from survey and interview transcripts.  Indeed, Kat was able to communicate the sense of what she called her generation’s “social media claustrophobia.”  In the play, Kat sketched a future where we need “connection therapy” as we vow to turn off our devices and turn toward those around us.

Kat’s work allowed her generation to express their feelings in order to foster a better understanding of their lives and challenges.  Congratulations to Kat and the wonderful cast and crew for a wonderful night at the theater.

Read Previous Posts By Dean Fitzpatrick.