Students disconnect to connect to people

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Students disconnect to connect to people

(Illustration by Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator)

(Illustration by Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator)

(Illustration by Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator)

(Illustration by Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator)

By Lauren Forsythe | For The Pitt News

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Your social media activity can’t ever really be deleted, Kathleen Bracken learned in her computer science classes at Pitt.

“Usually whenever you click the delete button it’s not actually taking the thing out of memory, it’s not like you take an eraser and you smear it out and it’s gone,” Bracken said. “It’s still there and around if you know how to find it.”

Bracken — a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in computer science — never liked the idea of mass communication over social media and prefers the anonymity and mystery that comes from abstaining from social media entirely. And she isn’t alone — although social media seems to be an inescapable part of daily life on campus, there are a number of students that are not interested in using it.

Richard Xu, a first-year student studying computer science, doesn’t use any social media at all. Abstaining from social media allows him to have time to himself, he finds, giving him the ability to clear his head without getting caught up in what everyone else is doing.

“I think that getting to be alone and out of the white space and then truly getting to appreciate nature or not having different drama, it really gives you a clear headspace and it infuses a sense of calm and peace,” Xu said

Xu chose to abstain from using social media back in high school because he felt the judgment and comparison that comes with social media would not be good for him. He continues to not use social media today because he believes it devalues communication.

“I think that there is a lot of value that gets taken away when we communicate digitally — you can’t communicate emotions or the intentions behind your words,” Xu said. “I want to be able to express myself to people physically. I get to have real personal contact being with somebody.”

Brian Primack, dean of Pitt’s Honors College, has carried out research that shows adults aged 18 to 30 that use social media are more likely to feel isolated or depressed — although it is unclear whether social media causes depression or simply worsens already existing depression.

“Our research has shown, and others have already validated that research, that overall more use of social media has been associated with a lot of negative things like depression and also social isolation, anxiety and eating habits,” Primack said.

The ways in which individuals use social media can also have a large impact on how it affects them, Primack said. Young adults who use several social media platforms, he said, are more likely to be depressed.

“We don’t know exactly why this is at this point, but one possibility is it may be like you’re trying to be friends with nine different groups of people,” Primack said. “It sort of waters down your experience with everybody and it makes it more difficult to be friends with everybody.”

Reasons other than the threat of depression motivate some students to unplug. Sinjon Bartel, a junior mechanical engineering and computer science major, said he avoids social media because his coursework and job with computers, like Bracken, changed his perspective.

“When you understand something in some way it loses its power over you,” Bartel said. “I’m not saying that social media is this dark power exerting influence, but you sort of remove the mystery of how these things are working and how these connections are being set up.”

Bartel removed social media apps to eliminate the temptation to use them. He said he now only uses Facebook for events and rarely uses Twitter. He still feels like he can be involved in things around campus and with his friends without social media.

“I’m pretty good on seeking out events that I am interested in or want to go to,” Bartel said. “I find that a lot of times the things that I’m happy I ended up at are from the weird flyers I’ll see out on places I drop by for lunch.”

Xu said he similarly never felt left out without social media. He said that not using social media helps him to make decisions on things without being influenced by what others are doing, something he feels that those who use social media struggle with.

“It takes away the difficult time when you have nothing to think about and you need to think about what you truly want. It makes it so that instead of finding out what you truly want, you just do the thing of, ‘I’ll just look at what everyone else wants and you do the same thing,’” Xu said.

Many college students use social media, Primack said, because the multi-billion dollar technology companies strategically craft the sites — with input from designers and psychologists — to keep users coming back. He said those students that choose to not use social media may be making a responsible decision, possibly by recognizing they were beginning to feel addicted. People who abstain from social media, he added, aren’t necessarily odd or antisocial.

“In fact, these people very well may have made a very clear decision — they may have tried out a social media platform and said ‘you know what, that just doesn’t really substitute for me for my real relationships,’” Primack said.

Bracken said social media does have its place, but encourages her peers to realize social media isn’t as vital as many think.

“Not using social media is not the end of the world. You’re not completely out of the loop if you decide not to use it,” Bracken said.

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