Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Professor speaks about implications of too much online interaction

By Nancy Pierce

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Sarah Doremus/Collegian

People across the country use social networks like Facebook and Twitter every day to connect with their friends. But too much online connection with minimal face to face interaction is “dangerous,” cautioned Jarice Hanson.

Hanson, a University of Massachusetts communications professor, thinks people are prone to look for connections, and tend to substitute ideas for the construction of these connections.

For an example, she showed a picture of a young child holding a fake cell phone made out of clay. This image, she said, displayed the argument that in society, the idea is now more important than the actual thing. People are consumed with the idea of connecting with someone, and they unconsciously value it more than the actual communication, she said.

She said technology like cell phones are not changing the world, they are changing the ability to make connections.

“We substitute connections for the true communication,” she said, adding that this is a dangerous practice. “If we prioritize connection over communication, we will communicate less.”

Hanson described technology as neither “bad” nor “good,” but said it changes everything.

“Social networking is nothing if we don’t give it meaning,” she said, there is a decision made by everyone on how to choose the function of social networking.

“In each case we are showing someone else what we think of them, and are receiving what we are saying about ourselves,” she said.

Hanson also spoke about young people online and the prevalence of “cyberbullying.” She said people are taught social cues that designate how to communicate in professional, social and personal situations. But in the environment of social networking where there are no cues, people have to “figure out how to create meaning in a world where so many architectures and protocols dictate how we communicate.”

She said young people, who have not been exposed to certain social cues, may displace emotions inappropriately online.

“Cyberbullying is available because we don’t know what we’re doing with social media,” she said. “It becomes a social currency, and in turn power.”

Hanson said social networking offers people situational power.

“People want the attentions of being watched by people they know and like but, from a distance,” she said, adding that this disconnect and distance provided by social networks is what gives people the power over situations.

Although there is a lot of information emitted through different types of media and senders, Hanson said there is only one location where the meaning of these messages is constructed: the human brain.

Hanson criticized what she called the “peep culture,” which she said is an idea from Hal Niedzviecki, a cultural critic, whom she quoted, “a peep is a reaction to and a symptom of our technocratic age of quasi-community, nonstop marketing and global celebrity gossip.” Hanson criticized what she saw as a “celebrity culture,” saying she thought celebrity news often leads, landing on the front page of many media outlets that are supposed to produce news stories.

Reality TV is relatively cheap and easy to create, making it attractive to producers, Hanson said, and is attractive to viewers because “it elevates wanting to be a celebrity, wanting to be in control, wanting to be wanted.”

Hanson also warned about what she saw as the danger in choosing what information is received from the Internet. She said the Internet makes different voices heard, but said people are only paying attention to the voices they agree with and that make sense to them. She said people aren’t challenging themselves and that only consuming single sources is giving up, and described it as frightening.

Hanson touched upon the recent uprisings in the Arab world, stating although Facebook and Twitter acted as a useful tool in the revolutions, they did not enact as the mitigating factors in accomplishing the goals. She said the real mitigating factor was young people without options feeling compelled to take action. She spoke about the events going on today in the Arab world stating the Arab Spring, although the people are still striving for democracy, “was a passing moment and we’ve moved on.”

Hanson stated it takes one generation for social change to occur.

One graduate student from the audience asked Hanson what she sees for the future. Hanson said she was optimistic but was wary of the changes forced upon society for different reasons.

“If we leave it up to the corporations …we will lose the ability to take the power back,” she said. “Think responsibly about how you use social networks.”

At the end of the lecture, Chancellor Robert Holub presented Hanson with the Chancellor’s medal. Her speech came as part of the Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series.

Nancy Pierce can be reached at [email protected]

 

1 Comment

One Response to “Professor speaks about implications of too much online interaction”

  1. Sumiko Eck on October 9th, 2012 6:40 am

    How can I form a web page for free, you know, like a public access website called “Sammy’s Jewish Conversion Corner”

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