Is Social Networking Making Us Socially Awkward?

***Yup. S. Nicole Brown is here again.***

I noticed it one day while walking from class.

Making my way across the  common area of campus on a beautiful sunny day, the sounds of the latest Top Forty blaring from a speaker behind a DJ booth asking people to sign up to volunteer for the next “save the world” project, I looked up from my phone, and looked around.

What I saw, kind of jolted me. Every single person that passed in this very busy area of campus, was looking down at their phone. I realized I had walked halfway across campus without one lifting my head up away from my phone, and noticed everyone doing the same. Watching people swarm around me in a rush to get home or to another class, I realized we had all so mastered the art of texting/tweeting/status-liking while doing other things, that we were on a sort of real time auto-pilot while our virtual lives kept our attention.

So of course, I took to twitter to state publicly my observation, and continued to walk with my head down, and on my phone.

From that day on I noticed more and more the absence of eye contact or basic human interaction when walking into stores, restaurants, on campus, at home. Everyone was seemingly more interested in tweeting and status updating about what they were doing, rather than enjoying the actual experience of what they were doing.

Still, I thought it was odd, but didn’t really realize just how dependent my generation and younger folks had become on social media interaction until I began meeting e-friends and associates in real life. Meeting someone in real life whom you only know online and believe to be super dope, is so exciting. You think about all the fun you’ll have when you finally meet, all the jokes you they’ve said that you’ll laugh at even harder in person.

And then you meet, and your entire image of them is shattered. They are quiet. Or uncomfortable, which makes you uncomfortable. Painfully shy, creepy, or just plain rude. You almost want to send them a direct message and ask if everything is okay with them, since they seem to have had the personality drained from them and you like their virtual one much better. A friend of mine went to a blogger meet up once, and described the behavior of several people as “lurking in real life.”

It’s a weird realization to come to that the very medium meant to foster social communication and connections, could be stunting us socially. More and more people seem far more comfortable to “poke” you or RT you than to call, or say hello to you on the street. People get keyboard courage and fire off statements that they wouldn’t dare say to those very same people away from their screen.

And as awkward as it is for me as a thirty year-old person to get over this, it’s so much worse for the teens and early twenty-somethings, who don’t know a social world beyond high school without smart phones and facebook and twitter. Those people that literally say “LOL” when they see something funny (my younger sister did this for an entire year until i threatened to end her life if she didn’t learn to laugh like a normal human), or think exchanging subtweets and nasty statuses is a way to solve an argument– while sitting in the same house (also witnessed this happen. With grown people no less). I feel so afraid for the youngins. So nervous that they will not know what it is to walk up to someone and say “hello,” or how to be somewhere longer than ten minutes without checking in on various social networks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of social networking. I’ve met a good number of close friends from just being interactive online (including P to the Jay and Champness). But there needs to be balance. Social media makes it possible to spend an entire day talking without uttering one word. This to me, is scary. Nothing can replace the importance of being able to read body language, of knowing proper ways to interact in different social settings, having self-awareness, and the joy “friending” a stranger can bring through a surprisingly painless face-to-face conversation.

S. Nicole Brown (aka “Muze”) is a writer of fiction, lover of words, and chronic reader happily living the clichéd under-spaced and overpriced life of a NYC writer. You can find her in 140 or less @muzeness or on her blog, Because I’m Write.

***Check out “Yes, Monogamy IS Unnatural (…and so is everything else we do)” — The Champ’s latest at Ebony.com***