Today’s world is a global village. Everyone is connected to one another in this vast network generated by the Internet. As said by Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher of communication theory, “The new electronic independence re-creates the world in the image of a global village.” This electronic independence is inherently dependent upon the Internet. It illuminates the lives of thousands of people by spreading knowledge internationally, thereby making us global citizens.
In the past, the communicating and free sharing of thoughts among people were restricted by long distance, nationality and/or religion. But now, even these barriers cannot stop the flow of information and knowledge. The new world of social networking allows free sharing of thoughts. Online social networks are created by websites such as Facebook, which has emerged as a giant in this social world. So how do these networks affect our education? How do they influence the lives of students?
Humans are social animals. We always like to remain in some group or another, and we prefer to follow what this group does. All of our traditions and cultures are the product of this group-oriented facet of human nature. A well-known American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, stated in his “Theory of Motivation” that the social need of human beings is the third most important requirement after our physical and safety needs — the third tier in his hierarchy of needs. Even our self-esteem comes after this social dependence. This is the main reason billions of people use social networking to stay connected, make friends and satisfy their social needs.
As of 2015 the world’s largest social networking company, Facebook, has 1.49 billion active users, and the number of users is increasing every year. One of the most interesting things to look at is the increasing number of student users on such social networking sites. As per the survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 72 percent of high school and 78 percent of college students spend time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. These numbers indicate how much the student community is involved in this virtual world of social networking.
Actually, many reasons exist that explain why students love to spend time socializing. Firstly, social networks provide them the freedom to do whatever they want — to upload what they want and talk to whom they want. They like to make new friends and comment on the lives of different people. Students can create other online identities that the real world does not allow. The freedom it gives them to act just by sitting in front of a computer enthrals them, and they then demand for more freedom. Never before has it been so easy for young minds to create a digital image of their actions through such a spontaneous medium.
But this has a darker side that has gained the attention of many parents, and even eminent psychologists, all over the world. One of the biggest problems is the identity crisis constant social networking produces. As said by Professor S. Shyam Sunder, a renowned researcher at Penn State, “The types of actions users take and the kinds of information they are adding to their profiles are a reflection of their identities.”
Many psychologists are worried about the identity crisis that our present generation may face today. The lives of people, especially students, are largely influenced by what is posted by other people on their profiles. The habits that students learn are decided more by what their friends do and less by the teachings of parents or professors.
Our students have become prone to frequent fluctuations in mood and self-control. If one of a student’s friends posted about his or her present relationship with someone, then other friends are pressed to do the same thing. Actions that attract more public attention hold more value, even despite some of them being immoral or illegal. We even see that many students are worried about their looks, and so they always try to upload nicer pictures than their friends. A recent survey has stated that whenever someone uploads a profile picture, it immediately affects the moods of friends. It often produces stress, anxiety or fear about their identities as people. Consistently thinking in this way can sometimes lead to depression.
The most important things in a student’s life are studying, learning good habits and gaining knowledge to become a person with moral character. But today, as we see in various studies, this optimal learning process is seriously jeopardized by students becoming entrapped by the ploys of social networking. Students neglect their studies by spending time on social networking websites rather than studying or interacting with people in person. Actively and frequently participating in social networking can negatively affect their grades or hamper their journeys to their future careers.
Getting too involved in social media can lead to an addiction that inculcates bad habits. Students prefer to chat with friends for hours, and this leads to a waste of time that could have been used for studying, playing or learning new skills. It is often said that a long-term friendship or relationship is developed when people meet each other, spend time and share their experiences. But this virtual way of communicating with each other does not lead to a natural, friendly experience and hence cannot produce a healthy relationship with those friends. Also, these relationships tend to terminate easily due to a lack of personal contact.
The system generates a competition to make as many new friends as possible and the so-called “social quotient” of a person is decided by how many friends they have and not on how good-natured and congenial the person really is. Often, students who are not old enough to accurately analyse the world “like” or comment on social or political issues, and this leads sometimes to serious controversies.
Considering all of the above pros and cons, it is necessary to develop certain regulations over the use of such social networking sites, especially for high school and college students. But still, students should get the choice to spend time socializing in an effective way. It should not hamper their school or college performance, and it should be kept in mind that social networking sites create virtual worlds that drastically differ from reality. Students should develop the cognitive and intuitive ability to analyse how much time they want to spend on social media. It is left up to the students to decide what really matters in their life and how much of this virtual life translates to real life.