Social Media’s Impact On College Students Explored

In UGBC’s final “Real World BC” lecture last Thursday, Joanna Pabst, a graduate assistant in the sociology department, discussed social media and how it affects social change.

“There will be positives and negatives because technology itself is neutral,” she said. “It’s about what we do with it.”

Current college students are sometimes referred to as “digital natives” because they are the first generation to have grown up immersed in technology. Though these students often feel they are too connected, technology use is increasing across all age groups.

“In every generation, changes are often first visible in younger people,” Pabst said. “These changes do not represent an upending of all we know. Rather, they represent an evolution.”

This evolution is especially apparent in terms of how people have come to perceive newer technologies.

“The claim that technology is an outside force, or technological determinism, fails to see that really technology is part of the social process,” Pabst said. “Texts and phone calls complement and increase the overall volume of our interactions.”

This view of technology as an integrated part of everyday life, instead of a viewpoint that differentiates between “online” and “real” life, has also helped to disband the notion that the Internet is an inherently dangerous thing.

Though the opportunity to interact with strangers is still there, Pabst said that the vast majority of people use the Internet to keep in touch with people they have met offline. In addition, the majority of teenagers do not take part in cyberbullying, sexting, and other misuses of technology that appear in the news.

Because the Internet and other media are so integrated into daily life, however, the boundaries between public and private blur considerably.

“Facebook radically alters our perception of public and private,” Pabst said. “It’s going to get harder and harder to take part in social media if we want to tightly control our information.”

When communicating online, one also loses the ability to read a person’s body language, another major shift in how people interact. “People now write themselves into being,” Pabst said, though she noted that people usually try to represent themselves accurately rather than reinvent themselves.

Teenagers are also very concerned with online privacy, Pabst said, citing a Pew Research study that found that 62 percent of teens only allow their Facebook friends to see their profiles. The same study found that 67 percent of users ages 17 and over have decided not to post something on the site because of the potential ramifications.

This does not mean that every social media user understands how to use them properly, however.

“Teens are coming to age in unfamiliar ways,” Pabst said. “As a society, we need to figure out how best to use technology in order to benefit from it.”

Pabst recommended having technology-free spaces in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed, and encouraged students to search themselves on Google to find out what is out there for the general public to see and make changes if necessary.

“We need to realize that we have these options,” she said.

In the question and answer period that followed the talk, students expressed their own concerns about how social media affects self-esteem, relationships with friends, and the chances of getting a job.


April 30, 2012