Social networking has facilitated the rise of a communications infrastructure in which people are readily available to share their lives, communicate with others, and cross geographic and social boundaries in order to connect to, and participate in, communities of their choice. These aspects of social networking are all positive, insofar as they have strengthened and extended the forms of connection that are possible between people. Before social media, it was substantially more difficult for people to (a) broadcast themselves (via text, photos, videos, opinions, etc.) and to (b) connect to like-minded others, resulting in a more isolated and inert communication climate.
The negative aspects of social media include (a) the rise of narcissism, (b) the inability of people to be present in the moment, (c) the inability of people to engage with other people in a technologically unmediated manner, and (d) substantial time wasting. Social media has, ironically, lowered the quality—if not the quantity—of human communication, in a manner discussed at greater length in the answers to the other questions.
The word technology refers to any human cultural creation and, as such, can encompass everything from clothes to computers. In the context of current information and communication technology, such as social media technology, human dependence on technology is different from other forms of reliance on technology in that such technology’s purpose is not to keep humans alive. Rather, the dependence on current technology is hedonic in nature—that is, the purpose of such technology is merely to augment human pleasure (Bright, Kleiser, & Grau, 2015).
Social media and related technology create a dependence that is based not only on pleasure but also on mediation. Technology mediates experiences, people, and relationships; in other words, social media is so ubiquitous that is determines how people experience each other and the world around them. For example, Facebook is so widely used that it determines how people interact with each other—that is, through the tools and media available on Facebook. The ubiquity of social media has also given rise to a state of affairs in which many people are dependent on documenting, rather than experiencing, events. In front of a beautiful sunset, for example, people addicted to the use of social media would likely feel the need to take a picture of the sunset and comment on it rather than merely experiencing it; this approach can be described as a form of dependence on the mediating power of technology.
Communication on social media is constrained by the nature of social media itself. For example, on Facebook, communication is possible through the following means: (a) Privately posted written messages, (b) publicly posted written messages, and (c) video-based chat. Facebook has text limits on how much can be written in a single message, so it encourages shorter forms of communication. In fact, the presence of so-called emojis, which are small characters that convey an emotion, means that Facebook users can communicate in an even more attenuated manner, in which the exchange of emojis can take the place of the exchange of actual words.
Such communicate volume limitations exist in other forms of social media. Twitter, for example, has a limit of 140 characters per post, requiring communication to take place in very brief exchanges of text. Instagram is driven by the posting of pictures and videos that can be accompanied by a necessarily limited amount of text. Moreover, all of these social media platforms are not built with traditional two-way communication in mind; rather, it is possible to describe social media as being a series of broadcast channels designed to allow single users to project their own online personae to others, not necessarily to support rich communicative interactions (Carr, 2011, p. 17). Social media communication is designed to be cursory in nature, as when a Facebook user’s friends post brief messages on his or her posts and pictures. In this sense, social media is training people to communicate less; moreover, in addition to this reduction in quality, the cursory and superficial support for true communication that exists on social media is also training people to communicate less richly.
A tablet is best used as an all-around device that allows a user to capture most of the functionality of a laptop computer or a desktop computer without being limited by the size of these computers. A tablet is just functional enough to be able to support the majority of advanced computer functions while also giving users the flexibility of a truly mobile device.
A smartphone is an ideal device for individuals who prioritize the need to be able to communicate in multiple formats—for example, through voice calls, text messages, and also over the Internet, which is supported by smartphones. A smartphone is not suited to the kind of productivity functions necessary for work (such as the use of spreadsheets and software), but it is best used to support multiple communication platforms from a single, simple platform.
A computer is, given the multiplicity of devices that can substitute for it to some extent, best used for the purposes of productivity—such as carrying out work, writing academic papers, working with software, and engaging in the kinds of involved, interactive cognitive tasks that are not as readily supported by smartphones, tablets, and other devices that are smaller and less powerful than computers.