Is social media making us anti-social?

On Cross Country Checkup: social media

Facebook and Twitter have become minute by minute communication tools for millions of people. Some are concerned that all that screen-time is diminishing the quality of real face to face contact.

What do you think? Is social media making us anti-social?

With guest host Andrew Nichols.


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The name given to the technology says it all: social media. In the past 20 years it has exploded onto the scene and has worked its way into the daily ...or minute-by-minute lives of millions of people around the world. People now start relationships ...and end them ...on social media. It has opened up a conduit by which the powerless can communicate with the powerful ...and vice versa. Social media, rightly or wrongly, has been credited with starting revolutions. It is certainly responsible for dramatically increasing the ability of an average individual to capture the attention of others far beyond his or her personal sphere ...and also allowing small groups to organize into large groups very quickly.

But on a personal level, what are the consequences to individual lives when the more time and attention that social media demands is diverted from other kinds of social interaction. From the teenager who hides his texting with friends under the dinner table rather than engage with his family the person in the lineup at the grocery store who is too distracted to unload her cart as she updates her Facebook. Both would say they are being more social ...with the people that count.

You've seen it yourself at a party, or in a waiting room, people together in one space ...but all of them are stuck to their little screens madly interacting with someone not in the room. They are being social ...but just not with the people they're with.

Critics say that by eliminating chance encounters and opting for social contact only with those of an individual's choice, we risk building insular worlds. They also say that by controlling your own profile and building your image through venues such as Facebook, it amounts to a kind of commercialization and selling of the self.

People's love of social media cannot be denied. A University of Maryland study found that students forced to go 24 hrs without social media felt lonely and cutoff from their friends and communities. The speed with which it has wormed its way into our daily lives is astounding. And there is little doubt that social media is here to stay. So, let's talk about it ...face to face to speak.

We want to hear from you. What attracts you to social media? What worries you about it? How are you using it? Are there any aspects you wish you could drop or escape from?

Our question today: "Is social media making us anti-social?"

I'm Andrew Nichols ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


  • Andrew Keen
    Author of Digital Vertigo: How Today's Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us

  • Alexandra Samuel
    Director of the Social and Interactive Media Centre at
  • Emily Carr University.

  • Eric Goldman
    Associate Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law. He also directs the school's High Tech Law Institute.

  • Amber MacArthur
    New media consultant. Amber co-manages a company called MGImedia.



While there is a purpose for social media, there is a time and a place for its use!

On a patio at noon today, I saw a family of four busy "communicating" and not one word was uttered. Mom was reading a paperback book, Dad was on a device and both school-age children were busy on their devices playing games. Around them, there was lots going on - people riding bikes (Sunday Bike Days), boats going by, the bridge been raised, etc., lots of opportunity for wonderful observations and conversations, on a beautiful sunny day in the nation's capital. It was sad. There was a missed opportunity for a family to interact with each other and those around them.

Monique Vandenbosch
Ottawa, Ontario

If you understood that these media are plural, and not singular, you would stop the error of totalizing these media into one. It is time the CBC led the way out of this singularity trap, because it leads to a monolithic view of electronic media - as if all of them are one, unidirectional, and monolithic.

There are clearly ways that a stable medium like e-mail can be very social, enhancing the social relationships (including face-to-face time) which may pre-exist, and in fact deepening them during a time of absence. My class is presently planning an intense and difficult event, one coming up very soon, they are talking back and forth on a closed e-mail-list which no one else sees. They are spread all over the city, and have some confidence in the privacy they find through. When the class is over they will have formed an understanding of making decisions together - under pressure - and they will identified potential friends and allies for the future.

Robert Anderson
Burnaby, British Columbia

I have a great deal of concern about the effects of our seeming addiction to social media. It seems to me people are forgetting how to genuinely communicate. Everything is abbreviated and immediate, often lacking thought and consideration.

People are forgetting what it means to be polite; to look at people when you're speaking to them, not to ignore them as I see so often; to converse, which means I listen and think about what you say and when you're finsished, I respond. Another aspect of this, and I see this so often with the children I teach, they literally are not able to understand visual cues and tone when speak with others. A part of this as well is the lack of accountability and responsibility people have for what they say. Things are said to people online that would never be said face to face.

I cannot believe how often I see a couple (?!) or a group of people out for a meal or a social (?!) occasion who spend the entire time on their blackberries or iPhones, rarely acknowledging the other people.

I can't believe how much of their privacy people are willing to forfeit. We used to talk about the "tyranny of the urgent". It looks to me that more and more people are submitting themselves to this tyranny. They can't bear a moment of being unplugged. Believe it or not, most things can wait and the whole realm doesn't need to know what you're doing this precise moment and vice versa. For all the "friends" people have, how many real friends are there?
All this worries me for us all. 
Fay Pereira
Vancouver, British Columbia

The evolution of social media in the past few years has allowed for the ability to connect people with others who would not be able to be connected otherwise. Recent history has seen the virtues of this in the Arab world and elsewhere. The availability of these "connections" to do good for humanity and the world as a whole is a great benefit for all. Also, however in some cases, this has lead to some forms of addiction in constantly wanting to be connected with others all the time. Face to face communications will always be the most meaningful way for humans to have contact with others, but social media has enhanced the ability for people to share, communicate, voice their opinions, and to have contact with others.

Wayne Comeau
Metaghan, Nova Scotia

The various forms of social media are not anti-social in and of themselves. It's only when they are used so much that face to face relationships are damaged or excluded all together.

The real problem with social media is that access to this technology costs money and to many, not a small amount of money. Some people cannot afford a computer an IPad, or a smart phone and they are therefore excluded from the benefits of social media. Poor school children cannot search for information for a school project, their parents cannot take financial advantage of discounts offered on line, banking on line and so on.

Social media creates a class system where the poor, once again, become poorer.

Peter Barss
West Dublin, Nova Scotia

The program so far has missed a basic historical point - the first social media were letters where the whole point was that a writing the letter was in a different place than b receiving it. Look at the fad of Pen Pals where millions of people wrote letters where there was generally no expectation of meeting face to face.

The only two differences between letters and twitter are that (a) speed and (b) multiple recipients. The displacement of place is exactly the same!

Jak King
Vancouver, British Columbia