We are now in the height of the traditional summer vacation season, and people are once again bringing the office with them…a new ‘tradition’ for our country. A recent poll of business professionals taking a vacation this summer found that only 2 percent planned to turn off their smartphones and social media altogether.
This begs the question: Are social media part of a long-term shift in how people interact, like the telephone? Or, especially after Facebook’s worrisome I.P.O., do these networks look like a fad that will become less attractive the longer it lasts?
In 1979, the sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel observed that the beeper was intruding on the private lives of doctors, expanding the range of time when it was socially acceptable to reach them. Today, doctors are no longer alone when it comes to being “on call” all the time. Thanks to e-mails and other social media, the notion of being disconnected from the obligations of the office has all but disappeared for most people.
Social media increase connectivity to a point where communicating in anything but online postings seems almost impossible. We have come to measure success by e-mails answered, connections made, posts responded to. We have become transactional and reactive. This is not good for productivity or creativity.
It is also not good for kids. On social media, children don’t learn negotiation skills, how to read a face, how to put themselves in the place of another, or how to apologize; indeed they don’t seem to know the difference between an apology and saying you’re sorry.
In simpler times this situation would be improved through the quality time that parents and children spend together on their summer vacation. We would talk about true feelings, real relationships and civil discourse. But apparently that won’t happen on this year’s vacation…because everyone is too busy staying ‘in touch’ on social media.