When you’re on a bus, in a store, at university or school, take a look around and you will surely see people, but you are not likely to remember their faces because their noses are usually glued to the screens of their phones and who knows, maybe you did not bother to look up either. To find out something about a person, one no longer needs to ask around to discover common acquaintances, one just needs to find them on Facebook and other social media platforms. And after a few minutes of scrolling, all will reveal itself.
Social networks came knocking on our doors one day like unexpected guests. First it was the Israeli ICQ instant messaging named to sound like its users were saying “I Seek You” then the Russians came to Armenia with Odnoclassniki meant to connect classmates and old mates and then, slowly but surely the American guests marched in with Facebook and Instagram. It often seems like everyone has an account on at least one social media platform and that there is hardly anyone left whose social life takes place in real life. But no, there are people, young people who have decided not to leave a digital footprint.
A.S is a university student. She hangs out with friends and is active in cultural circles and unlike many of us, she does not post photos to Facebook and believes that trying to keep up an online existence detaches her generation from a sense of reality. Her family played an influential role in her decision. “It is not customary in our family to be active on social media sites,” A.S. says. “I personally try to avoid the Internet because I think that when people spend too much time in that virtual reality, they eventually become a part of an alternate reality and become detached from their normal routines.”
A.S. sees how social media users around her are trying to prove something to their “friends” every waking minute. They try to convince her to join, insist that they want to see pictures of her too, they even get irritated with A.S., but she’s steadfast about her decision to avoid moving to an online domain. A.S. admits that social media sites can be a source of substantial information, but this same information can have its negative effects on the reader and therefore, with that logic in mind, limiting the use of social media sites can be beneficial.
D.S. is another student who has never even registered on any social media platform. “When social media sites started to become more popular among my friends, they were mainly posting photos of themselves but I never liked to be photographed,” D.S. says. “Now people use social media platforms to get their news from but I prefer to visit news websites. I also feel like people are preoccupied with how to update their pages. For me that borders on manic behavior and that is why I decided not to even try and enter that world.”
It has never occured to D.S. that it is possible to miss out on social events, discussions, or conversations because she is not on a social media site. She would rather people use the time they spend on social media to read a book or try to get ahead with their plans.
When you set out to find a person who is not on social media at the American University of Armenia, almost everyone will point to Professor Hourig Attarian. Her absence from social media has made an impression of her students. “I remember, at the beginning, I was busy and thought being on a social media platform would be yet another thing to constantly check and be occupied with,” Professor Attarian says. “Later, not registering was a form of protest, I did not want to be a part of the format. I also have political reasons for not registering.”
While Professor Attarian admits that social media platforms have played a significant role in different political movements, still, she can not agree with the policies of these platforms. She notes that people in other countries have already started to be more critical because in this fast-paced era, when you never seem to have time for anything, you are now reliant on nonstop notifications. “You start to panic, want to make sure that you too are on that given platform. It has become a form of addiction,” she explains.
While those who have chosen to stay off social media platforms are confident in their choices, others are shocked and amazed. It appears it is stranger and less natural to be absent from the Internet than to be physically present. And as the debate about the impact and effect of social media on human relations rages, at the end of the day it is a personal choice, one of each of us needs to make about the kind of lives we want to lead.