We can say with certainty that social media has completely transformed human interaction. With its recent introduction, social media plays a major role in just about all of our relationships, whether it be personal or business. This phenomenon has both positive and negative impacts; it all depends on how we choose to utilize it. Among the negatives are the fact that online interactions make it difficult to communicate one’s true message because body language, the tone of voice, etc. are lost. Furthermore, social media allows us to create artificial identities that make us comfortable online such that we sometimes isolate ourselves from real-life interactions and relationships. Like anything, there are also positives. These include making relationships more convenient and simplifying long-distance interactions. Social media helps shrink the world and bring people closer together. The most powerful way social media affects social relationships is through being able to build a community. In my personal experience, the positives of social media interactions greatly outweigh the negatives.
With text-based interactions, a lot of context is lost, in that you must depend on mere words to say what you want to say. In face-to-face interactions, you have much more to work with. Your tone of voice and body language say much more than words. Thus, a lot of misunderstandings can arise in written communication. You may say something that can be interpreted in the wrong way because the other person can not see your facial expression, your body language or hear the tone of voice. Although emoticons are intended to help transmit emotion, it may not be taken as seriously or as credible as a “real” emotional expression. I personally have experienced the frustration that comes with the misunderstandings that text-based communications have the potential to create. I will sometimes write a message trying to transmit a positive tone, but the receiver may perceive it as sarcasm. This causes both me and the receiver to become frustrated and may lead to an argument. I have experienced the opposite side of this issue as well. I have misunderstood text messages, possibly because of bias. What I do understand, though, is that these instances could have been prevented if transmitting tone of voice, body language, or facial expression were an option.
For example, my boss messaged me on a messaging app called Slack. He texted me saying something along the lines of “Get those reports to me soon, I’ll be in my meeting in 10.” When I got this message I thought to myself okay, he wants documents and I assume after his meeting which is about an hour so. After fifteen minutes go by, I have a manager in a very angry manner approach me. “What are you doing? The whole meeting is waiting on those reports!” I told him that I thought he needed them after the meeting and did not realize the urgency of his text. Obviously, if he had mentioned this to me in person he would have elaborated more and made sure I got the right message.
The artificial identities we create online can cause deficiencies when compared to a person’s presentation of self. There is no doubt that we act differently online. This holds true for a number of reasons, as psychology suggests. Although this may be good in some instances, it becomes problematic when we begin to feel very comfortable with our “not-so-realistic” online communication skills. This can cause us to become uncomfortable with our “real-life” communication skills. The underlying rationale behind this idea, as I see it, is: with the anonymity of the internet, we are comfortable communicating differently. This different form of communication can be addictive. Sometimes, we begin to isolate ourselves because we are more comfortable online. This can damage our relationships.
I have learned how relationships can be affected by individuals who have isolated themselves, to some extent, from social interactions resulting from their addiction to online relationships. A great example of this comes from a close friend of mine. He is not very social and spends most of his time online, interacting with people on platforms such as Discord. The users he talks to are completely anonymous and so is he. He has expressed that he feels that he is socially awkward, which is why he chooses to take most of his college classes online and refrains from getting a job. He fears social settings because his online skills cannot be applied in person. After having a healthy discussion with him, we came to the conclusion that his online habits have created problems in expressing his true self, and that is why he is so uncomfortable in public.
Now that we have discussed some of the negative effects social media interactions can have, I want to put more focus on the many positive effects. Like I have mentioned, positive and negative effects depend on how we utilize this tool, and I do believe that the positives outweigh the negatives. Social media allows us now to be able to retain relationships much more conveniently than we ever were able to in the past. We can communicate with our colleagues, co-workers, family members, and friends instantly and remotely. In the past, this would require a phone call or physical visit, which is far more time consuming and inconvenient. Because of this convenience, we are able to retain more of our relationships. We feel more in touch with the world as we can send and receives texts, pictures, and videos regardless of our busy lives. This has definitely enhanced our social life. The healthiest way to utilize this benefit is to use social media merely to supplement your real-life interactions. This way social media is merely assisting in cultivating your relationships.
Growing up in a pre-social media era, I certainly see the value in being able to communicate remotely. I have friends and family all over the world that I would not have been able to communicate with if it weren’t for social media platforms. For example, during middle school I moved to Egypt, leaving behind lots of friends. Social media helped me retain the relationships that I had with all my friends and family. The same goes when I came back, I was able to maintain the relationships that I had cultivated during my time in Egypt.
In addition to being able to more conveniently contribute to our relationships, social media helps us build a more integrated community. It does this by allowing people to communicate messages to a large number of people, almost instantly. Simple conversations and ideas have sparked into something much more. I have witnessed this firsthand during my time spent in Egypt. I saw the role that social media played before, during, and after the revolution. I followed the conversations and discussions that lead to the creation of events for the protests. These interactions were so powerful that they lead to the ousting of a dictator. This was the first time a lot of people, myself included, saw the power of social media interactions. It truly brings ideas and people together that have the potential to create something great.
As it has proven apparent, social media is a powerful tool. The interactions that have the potential to be made on these platforms are endless and their effects are far-reaching. There is no doubt that it has, and will continue to transform our society. It is a great tool even with all of its drawbacks. I can confidently say that as long as it is utilized responsibly, it has the ability to keep alive our very valuable relationships as well as helping us build a better, stronger community.