Textaufgabe - Aufgabe II “Loneliness in the Age of Social Networking” by A. Caltabiano (gA)
Hinweis: Die Prozentangaben in Klammern zeigen die Gewichtung der einzelnen Aufgaben.
Your school is doing a project on communication in the 21st century. For the English version of your school’s homepage you write a comment on the idea of internet-free zones. As the basis of your contribution you have been given the text “Loneliness in the Age of Social Networking” by Anna Caltabiano.
- To prepare your text, you
- outline the advantages and disadvantages of social networking as seen by Anna Caltabiano
- examine the means used to present the topic of social networking.
- On the basis of your findings, write your comment with the title “Internet-Free Zones – A Way to Increase or to Diminish Communication?” Refer to
- Anna Caltabiano’s views concerning social networking
- insights from materials studied in class and
- your personal experience.
Qutline the advantages and disadvantages of social networking as seen by Anna Caltabiano.
In Anna Caltabiano’s text “Loneliness in the Age of Social Networking“, published in 2014, the author presents both advantages and disadvantages of social media.
According to Caltabiano, one advantage of social media is that it is a modern means of reaching out to others and thus meeting every person’s basic need for social interaction. It has become a – if not the - normal and regular way of communication for teenagers today.
Social media offer a way of sharing thoughts and displaying what we do, as well as following what other people are up to. In that respect, it allows us to keep abreast of the lives of our friends and to keep in touch with them.
On the other hand, social media can be a distraction from true friends, as not every digital friend is a true one. Some social media seem to revolve more around the number of likes or the number of followers of our posts than on the actual connection to people and real relationships.
Furthermore, digital friends will never be able to replace genuine, face-to-face interaction. The warmth and comfort of a friend’s presence can never be fully offered by a person who is literally not there for you.
Caltabiano further distinguishes between our true personality and the online persona we create for, and present in, social media. For her, genuine friendship involves knowing the actual person and accepting them. She argues that people with a lack of such true friendships and physical presence of friends find themselves very lonely, despite having a great number of social media friends.
Examine the means used to present the topic of social networking.
Anna Caltabiano uses a variety of means to present the topic of social networking.
First, she makes sure to include contrasting views in order to seem objective and professional. This can be seen in how she begins by stating that social media has become the normal way of connecting among teenagers (cf. ll. 14/15) and that it “can help satisfy a portion of this need” (ll. 23/24), and then claiming that social networking doesn’t allow for a true connection (cf. ll. 24-26), that a true connection is not necessarily established by communication at all, but rather by mere presence (cf. ll. 28/29) and finally concludes that “social media can create a dangerous illusion of being connected” (l. 30).
Another means of presenting the topic employed by the author is the use of personal examples to support her facts and include the reader.
She opens her text with an example of having watched a movie with a friend via screen-sharing, and feeling sad and unsatisfied at the end of it because the friend wasn’t actually present and thus couldn’t truly comfort her as a regular friend would have (cf. ll. 1-11). She uses this example without telling the reader about the screen-sharing right away in order to emphasize the fact that it seemed like an ordinary Friday night among teenage friends. With the normalcy of social media today, it was indeed normal, but in fact, “normal” wasn’t enough: “I knew that in this kind of situation, most friends would have given me a hug, and I do think that my friend would have done this for me … If my friend was in the same country as me” (ll. 5-7).
Another personal example is her reflection on history class and the eras we connect to certain lifestyles which ends in her defining social networking as her – and that of today’s teenagers – modern lifestyle in this “age of social networking” (cf. ll. 16-20). She uses the example of a history class to involve the teenage reader, which is her target group, as s/he will be able to connect to her thoughts and will be reminded of the common situation they are all in (in this case, the history lessons they all take).
She finally speaks directly of her personal experience when she claims to know of many teens who feel lonely, even though they have lots of social media friends who actively comment and like their posts and pictures (cf. ll. 32-35).
Her use of the first person singular throughout the text (cf. ll. 1/2 , ll. 4-9, l. 14, ll. 18/19 and l. 32) further underscores her personal involvement in the topic, and allows the reader to take part in her (personal) opinion; a means to create interest and involve the reader.
Caltabiano further includes the reader by using the pronouns “we” and “us”; this places both author and reader in the same situation: “As teenagers we hear from our parents and our teachers” (l. 12); “our networked world” (l. 13); “technology has changed the way we, especially teenagers, interact” (ll. 14/15); “In history class we look back … We automatically asscociate …” (l. 16); “the future will define us” (l. 18); “we will look back on this era … We now live …” (l. 19); “… the tools we have … it has not changed our deep psychological need” (ll. 22/23); “Social media can help us” (l. 23); “We let others know…” (l. 24); “that doesn’t fulfill our deepest and most basic need” (ll. 24/25); “a close friend can mean more to us than a mass of comments on our Instagram” (ll. 28/29); “We pay attention … and often fool ourselves” (ll. 30/31); finally “technology has distracted us … we can be ourselves” (ll. 35/36).
Finally, by writing “Yes, you read that correctly” in line 8, Caltabiano addresses the reader directly, who, as a result, feels directly involved and motivated to read on.
In conclusion, the author manages to raise and hold the reader’s interest by involving him or her with both facts and personal details s/he can relate to, as well as by establishing that both author and reader are thus in the same situation, age and interest group.
Internet-Free Zones – A Way to Increase or Diminish Communication?
When we think of communication, we automatically think of the internet, social media and messaging apps. But is posting what we had for lunch and tagging where we had it, liking and following posts of so-called friends or texting instead of making the effort to visit a friend really communication enough? Does the internet bring us closer together, or does it merely distract us from actual, real-life communication? Do we need internet-free zones to force us to look up from our smartphones for a change to finally see the people around us?
On the one hand, the internet offers a fantastic and fast means of keeping up with our friends, wherever they are. Because of social media and messaging apps, it seems like we don’t have to miss out on any detail of their life and that we can be there for them, even if we aren’t literally there. We feel acknowledged when our photos or posts fetch a lot of likes, and we can be sure our friend has seen the message that we will be a bit late to our dinner, because the two little blue checks next to our Whatsapp message assure us s/he has read it.
Communication has become easier, faster and – let’s be honest – lazier because of the internet. A “k” suffices to say you agree with your friend’s proposal. A smiley face spares you a lengthy explanation of how you feel. Video calls let us actually see the friend far away, and screen sharing allows us to enjoy the same movie and watch it together, even though we aren’t in the same room. We are spared the walk or drive to our friend’s house.
On the other hand, the type of communication that the internet can offer, namely a mere digital exchange, is not all we require to fulfill what Anna Caltabiano calls “our deep psychological need to truly connect with others” (ll. 22/23) and “our deepest and most basic need to establish an emotional connection with another person” (l. 25) in her text “Loneliness in the Age of Social Networking”, published in 2014. She goes as far as arguing that social media “can create a dangerous illusion of being connected” (l. 30). The author describes that it is often those with many digital friends in social media, many likes and comments on their photos or posts and therefore seemingly well-connected, that feel lonely (cf. ll 32-35) and thus - in the real sense of the word – are very unconnected. Caltabiano comes to the conclusion that nothing can replace actual face-to-face interaction and the presence of a genuine friend that likes you the way you really are (cf. ll. 27-29 and 37-38), and not just your “carefully scripted online persona” (l.36). Thinking about it, I have often seen a picture on social media platforms, or a profile picture in messaging apps, of a friend that looked different from the actual person I know. Sometimes entire profiles make me wonder if I know them at all, or if they really are doing so very well. I wonder how often a post was merely an outcry for attention and, if I had seen the friend, s/he would have had much more to say than his or her post suggests.
Especially the warmth of a friend’s presence and the comfort of a hug, the joy of laughing together and seeing your friend’s face, even when nobody says a word, is an emotional connection we seem to miss out on because we often mistake our digital exchange as enough communication. This can be witnessed every day and everywhere: Everyone has seen those groups of friends and even couples out on a date facing each other physically, but each being distracted by their smartphone. It seems like we are scared of missing out on something, or being the last to know or like a post if we look up from our smartphones or stay off our Facebook account for the length of a dinner or coffee. Many of my friends are so obsessed with their smartphones that a steady wifi connection seems the most important factor in their happiness. This does trouble me, especially because even younger children in schools all seem to consider social media and digital communication the most “normal” and thus enough communication. Even our parents, and sometimes grandparents, are on Facebook, so it must be enough to congratulate our granny there instead of calling her.
When considering that Facebook was once created to actually facilitate meeting each other – or a significant other – it seems absurd that it rather distracts us from that goal these days. After having hacked into the Harvard student data as a prank, Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin realised how much potential personal data offered, and quickly had a vision in mind where Harvard students would be connected to each other – that people would actually meet in real life because of Facebook. Ironically, it seems that for both characters, this concentration on the digital world (and their obsession with it) is what led to the distraction from, and loss of, the few true friends they had in real life; in the case of Mark Zuckerberg, even the only genuine friend. This teaches us an important lesson: While we might be very popular and connected on the internet and have hundreds of friends online, we might be absolutely alone offline.
Internet-free zones might be just the ticket to force us back into offline reality now and then. Especially in schools, it forces children to actually talk to each other, to look at their friends and actually get to know them for who they really are. Real communication, the kind that allows for emotional connection, might be encouraged again. The pressure of keeping up online and having to invent an extra-appealing (and thus also sometimes dangerously inviting) profile, can give way to genuine intimacy between people who really know each other. If internet-free zones have even the slightest chance of serving to remind us that connection is more than digital data flow, we should consider them in schools, restaurants, coffee houses or any other establishment whose basic interest is for people to enjoy each other’s presence and do without the internet to connect to each other.
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