Weigh in with your opinions and observations.
Originally written in 2012 this article needs to be revisited, particularly given the political discourse around the American presidential election, and a general tendency for verbal violence to be on the rise.
What a scary concept — that social media could be dehumanizing and result in objectification of human beings? It’s certainly a possibility to consider. Basically objectification involves the perception that people can be treated as objects or tools. The most common usage of the term relates to women, coming out of the feminist movement, where it was suggested, and eventually commonly accepted, that our media, commercials and society treated women as objects to be used, for example to sell cars or as tools for other functions.
Objectification also involves the assumption that people are interchangable parts, denying the individual value of each human being. Again as an example regarding women; If you have one attractive woman on the cover of your magazine, you can just put another one on next month and it will be just as good.
Does Social Media Promote This Kind of Objectification?
Maybe. It’s interesting that on Twitter, but also on Facebook, there’s been a strong emphasis placed on how many friends or followers one has. The media has picked up on that and there’s even been coverage of which celebrities have garnered the most followers. What does that mean? It certainly isn’t treating each person as valuable, or as an individual. Followers, for those with that mindset, are simply statistics, and the fact that you couldn’t possibly interact with very many is irrelevant. That’s treating people as things, or as tools, if it’s seen as a business goal.
There’s more suggestive evidence from watching the behaviors of people online on social media. There is certainly one to one ongoing relationships that are established on social media. But there’s also something else happening and that is that people are writing with the hope of getting any responses from anyone at all. The people aren’t being valued for who they are, but just that they are there. It’s like cheap tawdry sex, which is an ultimate in tooldom (forgive the pun). “I’ll do it with anyone” is the mentality, and just as it is in sex, it creates a situation where people are treating each other as interchangable parts.
There are a few social media sites, some oriented towards dating, that are frequented by younger people, and their behavior is even scarier, because they want to talk to anyone. Or swap nude pictures, or do other things that would indicate that social media is a perveyor of objectification.
None of that is actually that surprising, although it’s ironic that “social” media which purports to connect people should be involved in the opposite — not helping to build relationships, but promoting superficial, empty, objectified relationships.
We’ve known for a long time that the more technology that links between two people, the more likely people will cease to recognize the person on the other end as a real human being. That’s why people on the phone say things when they are angry (i.e. to customer service people) that they would never say in person. Or why anonymous people using computers would be even more extreme.
The chief concern would be that people who spend so much time involved in depersonalized and objectified relationships online will become unable to avoid doing so in the non-virtual world. Is it likely? Who knows, but as with many “new” things, we won’t see the consequences until we are way done the road.
One thing is sure. Many of the interactions on social media are of the type where one or both people are trying to use the other person for some purpose, and it’s not to have specific interactions and relationships with valued people, who value back.