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

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

Allison Graham at TEDxSMU

Here is the transcript and summary 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:


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.

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.


  • 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!’

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?’

And I said, my message was, ‘I don’t think there’s really anything that can’t wait until we get to our destination. And don’t forget if you send that text at the stop sign, they’re probably going to text you back while you’re driving. So maybe not the best idea.’

And I’ll give you an example. If you’re driving 55 miles an hour and you look down at your phone for five seconds, you’ve just now driven the length of an entire football field completely blind.

And it’s not just our kids. It’s us as well. We are constantly at work. Constantly connected and constantly distracted. Everyone of us thinks of some sort of extreme vacation we need to go on, where we may say to our bosses, ‘You know, I’m going to go on a very extreme vacation. There’s just absolutely no way I can return anything during the day.’

But you’re still expected to go back to the hotel and return your work emails.

So if we as adults are this distracted, our kids are seeing this, we’re always at work and where are they? Always on their devices.

And how many times have you guys heard, “What do you mean you don’t know. I posted it on Facebook.” So for some reason now we’re all supposed to know about each other’s lives, because they posted it on Facebook.

And I don’t know that you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, you didn’t tell me last week, when we were at brunch.

And what do we present really when we are on Facebook? We present an idyllic life. Perfect parenting. Great relationships. We hardly ever give any bad news or copy about ourselves, because that doesn’t make for a lot of likes.

Different high school group I was speaking to and they raised their hand and educated me on something I didn’t know. They said, ‘You know, we wait until 5 o’clock before we post our Instagram pictures. Because that’s when we know all of our friends are out and we’ll get the most traffic.’

I thought that was pretty interesting and then they started talking a little bit more about how they get jealous.

So if one person gets more likes on Instagram than the other, then they just take it down. So there’s all this emotional turmoil and strife going on with our number of likes, somehow equaling our self-esteem.

We are all our own public relations firms always trying to figure out how we can increase our numbers. Work sometimes demands that from us as well. Certainly we do that a lot in our personal life.

And this is what we present on Facebook. I mean here’s who we really are in real life, and this is what we present on Facebook. Guilty a little bit of it?

We have the selfie now. And if you think about a selfie it’s rather a sad invention. It’s us taking a picture of ourselves, by ourselves. Maybe we can get two more people if somebody really has a long arm.

The bathroom selfie! I find this hilarious. I see it all the time. ‘I’m like, oh great!’ That’s you in front of a mirror. Great going to a party I probably was not invited to. That you’re going to be selfie-ing your way through, while I watch ‘Home Alone’ on Facebook.

We have the Oscar selfie. That was a lot of fun that crashed the Twitter feed. I think most people know and then we have the funeral selfie. Not so fun. She looks very unpleased.

And we have the driving selfie because I mentioned the research shows that won’t kill you at all.

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

Thank you, thank you!

I think we need to take that pause in our life. Make mud pies, build a fort, take the time to gaze at the clouds, for rhinoceroses and unicorns… Screen free!

And if change starts from within, we are that change. We can be that change. And teach our kids what it was like before we lived life in front of a screen.

We can use social media to create positive face-to-face groups and organizations and meeting places like we have tonight. Not hashtag activism but people activism.

We need to look up and see who our neighbor is. We need to look up and put that phone away. Make a human connection, teach human interaction, as if it were as important as the very breath we breathe. Look up at me, look up at each other, and look up at you.

And I’m going to ask everyone in here to take a screen-free challenge. Unplug for one hour a day and if you like this message please share it.

Thank you very much.

Want a summary of this talk? Here it is.


Allison Graham’s talk, titled “How Social Media Makes Us Unsocial,” highlights several key points about the impact of social media on our lives and relationships.

1. Disconnecting Us: Graham begins by emphasizing the disconnection caused by excessive social media use. She shares a video clip illustrating how people are often engrossed in their devices even when in the presence of others, leading to a sense of neglect and disconnection.

2. Decline in Close Relationships: Graham references a Gallup poll from 2001 and 2023, revealing a significant decline in the number of close friends reported by the average American—from ten to just two. She suggests that social media may be a contributing factor to this decline.

3. Over-Reliance on Technology: Graham highlights society’s obsession with smartphones, emphasizing that people check their phones approximately 150 times a day. This constant connectivity can lead to a feeling that whoever is on the other end of the screen is more important than those physically present.

4. Shortened Vocabulary: The talk addresses the impact of text messaging on language and communication. Graham warns that the trend of abbreviating words may lead to a loss of nuance and personal expression in our vocabulary.

5. Distracted Driving: Graham highlights the dangerous consequences of texting while driving, noting that it has become the leading cause of death for teens, surpassing drinking and driving. She encourages responsible smartphone use, even at stop signs or traffic lights.

6. Work-Life Balance: Graham discusses how adults are constantly connected to work through their devices, which can set a bad example for children who then become immersed in their own screens. This constant distraction affects family dynamics.

7. Social Media Image: The talk touches on the facade people present on social media, often showcasing an idealized version of their lives. Graham notes that this can lead to jealousy and low self-esteem among users, particularly teenagers.

8. Selfies and Narcissism: Graham discusses the rise of the selfie and its implications. She humorously points out that it’s essentially taking a picture of oneself, alone. She also mentions the trend of taking selfies in inappropriate places, like funerals or while driving.

9. Seeking Real Connections: Graham advocates for a pause in our digital lives and encourages real-world activities and interactions. She emphasizes the importance of teaching children the value of human connection and interaction.

10. Screen-Free Challenge: To conclude, Graham calls on the audience to take a screen-free challenge, unplugging for at least one hour a day. She suggests that through this, we can reconnect with one another and teach the younger generation the significance of genuine human connections.

In her talk, Allison Graham highlights the need for balance in our digital lives, encouraging us to be mindful of the impact of technology on our relationships and well-being while promoting the importance of genuine human interactions.

Resources for Further Reading:

Ben Halpert: Technology Addiction and What you Can do About It (Transcript)

Connected, but alone? By Sherry Turkle at TED (Transcript)

Bailey Parnell: Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health? (Transcript)

Dr. Cal Newport: Quit Social Media at TEDxTysons (Full Transcript)

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