How Social Media Makes Us Unsocial: Allison Graham (Transcript)

Allison Graham at TEDxSMU

Full text of Social Media historian Allison Graham’s talk: How Social Media Makes Us Unsocial at TEDxSMU conference. In this talk, she shares the funny and revealing insights of a life lived online and how social media is used to connect and disconnect us.

Best quote from this talk: 

“I think we would all live life better if we had hands to hold rather than keys to click.”

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: How social media makes us unsocial by Allison Graham


Allison Graham – Social Media historian

Hi! Thank you very much.

I’d like to start out by asking everyone to power down their devices during my talk. And for those of you that don’t know the power buttons, it’s either on the top or on the side of your phone.

I’d also like to thank the guys from for permission to use this video.

[Video clip]

“I want to post about how great this coffee is, but I can’t think of a funny way to say it.”

“This post is like a page long. How do I shorten this?”

“Just take out all the vowels.” [Still be the other page]


“Hey guys, you on Twitter? Follow me.”

“Sometimes I want to move to another country where I won’t have to deal with this stuff.”

(in foreign language) “SHHH.. I am working on a Tweet!” “Does this seem too much like I’m bragging?”

“Hashtag I quit. Just kidding.”

“Hashtag multitasking!”

“Hashtag squirmwork!”

“Hashtag road trip dude” “Not while you’re driving, man”

“Hashtag Yolo”

“Is anybody even gonna read this?”

“Basti!” “Copy friends?” “Unsubscribe” “Mini-bagels” xxxx

“What’s up Facebook!”

“How are my new shoes?”


“I love coffee!”

“We are doing virals”

“Driving selfie”

“Desert” “Food world” “Nobody cares”

“I’d all of you”

“Dude! I made the popular page.”

[Video clip concludes]

So I want to talk about three things tonight:

  • How social media is disconnecting us.
  • What’s happening now, and
  • How we can do better.
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Gallup took a poll in 2001 and every average American said that they had ten really close friends. The same poll this year said we had two.

So what happened? Where did everybody go? And I think we know where.

I think we’ve all seen this by now. Maybe even been a little guilty of it ourselves. I see families like this out to dinner all the time, and it drives me nuts. And I see couples on dates clearly together, but on their cell phones.

It’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.

But to me what does this say when we are together?

To me it says that there’s someone, anyone on the other end of the screen that’s way more important than you, who’s right in front of my face.

There’s a study by Mary Meeker that says: We touch our phones or check our phones 150 times a day. And we upload 1.8 billion pictures to Facebook. That’s a little over a sixth of the population a day for pictures.

Remember when the Internet was new? Those of us that do. That was really, actually only about 25 years ago, if you can imagine.

I remember, when we had pagers, times seemed a little simpler back then. You’d get the beep. You may return the call, you may not return the call.

Or when we had answer machines, you could always say that you weren’t home. Now we have a list of all these excuses that may or may not work.

But it seems like the more we talk about how technology divides us, the more we demand from it. And I think that’s a huge risk that we’re running in our society today.

We have this shortened vocabulary now. It’s all about the texting. Even my mom! She says, ‘Just text me!’ And she’s a little bit older. I won’t say her age because she’ll see this later.

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  • OMG – Oh my goodness
  • LOLLaugh out loud
  • WTFWhy the face

So when we abbreviate our vocabulary what we risk is losing the nuances, subtleties and intimate parts of our personalities that make up our very rich American vocabulary. And with that shortening, we lose and run the risk of not being able to fully express ourselves and communicate, as we move forward.

And that losing our vocabulary equals a potential loss of being able to express ourselves.

How many times does anybody look in horror when their cell phone rings with the personal call? A whole conversation starts happening in your head, when it rings.

Tiffany! Why is Tiffany calling? What does Tiffany want? Why is she calling me?’

And then you have that last ringtone moment where you know you have to pick up that phone or let it go to a voicemail. You may or may not check. ‘Hey Tiffany, what’s up?’ The whole time thinking she could have completely texted this whole message to me.

If I asked everybody in here if they could take their phone, set it down and walk away for an hour – could you do it? An immediate sense of panic comes over us.

We will turn the car around, even if we are halfway to our destination, just to go back and get our cell phones.

I had a Blackberry which I adored and I kept it for a really long time. But you guys remember when we had BlackBerry’s, don’t you? What did we call them back then? That’s right ‘crack berries’!

So it’s no surprise where we’ve landed ourselves now.

So I took my Blackberry into the Apple store when everybody else had their Apple phone, and the transition was more than I could bear. Experiencing phone shame!

And I went in and of course it was completely jam-packed at the Apple store. And this cute kid comes up to me and he’s like, ‘May I help you!’

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And I said, ‘Yes, you can. I would like a phone that could do this!’

So I took my Blackberry and I threw it on the ground! But pop pop pop…. it goes all the way across the store. Everybody just stops in the store! Gasps!

And I walk over and I pick it up and I said, ‘See the screens fully intact. And it still works!’

And he just looked, not missing a beat, and he said, ‘We don’t have a phone that can do that.’

A new study out by the Cohen’s Children Medical Center in New Hyde Park. Their study says: ‘This year that texting while driving is now the number one cause of death for teens. More than drinking and driving!’

So what this means is…. There’s a lot of drunks on the road.

I was speaking to some high school students and of course you know they’re always willing to make some sort of bargain. And they raise their hand and they said, ‘Well, what if you’re at a stop sign? Or what if you’re at a stoplight?’

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