I have been thinking about a final project in one of my classes for weeks. I’ve started writing about many different topics in multiple forms of presentation. I’ve been interested in them all, but they were all missing one thing: passion. I couldn’t finish a single one because I didn’t have a true passion for the topic. In light of a recent evaluation on my life I have found one thing that resonates through all that I love: relationships. Relationships are my passion! I form relationships every where I go. Relationships with my students, relationships with my co-workers, relationships with my family, relationships with my friends; relationships are important to me. This realization lead me to think about how social media is affecting those relationships. It seemed most fitting that I post my final project here on social media.
My real question about social media and relationships is “does social media cause more harm to relationships than it does good?” Before doing any research on the topic I would venture to guess that I will be able to find arguments on both sides of the debate however, I have a scientific/mathematical brain and I tend to see things in black and white. We’re looking for a majority vote here. Which side of the debate has more information and which has more compelling arguments? I realize that social media also has a purpose for professional use but I will only be exploring the affects on personal relationships.
First let’s get a little background about social media so we know what we’re dealing with. The first true social media site where users had their own personal profiles, used their own names and could invite friends was sixdegrees.com. The basis for the site was that no person is separated by more than six degrees from another. Sixdegrees.com started in 1997 and lasted until 2001. Friendster surfaced in 2002. It was a social media site that promoted your “circle of friends”. Technology changes fast and we are on to Myspace in 2003. The Myspace platform allowed more of a personal vibe with customizable backgrounds and music. In 2004 Facebook launched to college students at Harvard. It wasn’t until 2006 that it opened to the public. Facebook now has 1.44 billion active users and 900,000,000 unique monthly users which makes it the hottest social media site to date. I’m sure that’s not a shock to you! Others in the top 5 include Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google Plus+. To see the stats on the top 15 click here.
To evaluate how social media is affecting personal relationships we first need to understand who is using it and how. As of January 2014 74% of American adults who are online use social media sites. That’s up from 26% in 2008. The 18-29 age bracket has the highest number of users while the 65+ bracket has the least. The gap between male and female users does vary by social media site but it is typically within ten percentage points. There also isn’t a noticeable gap in race, attained education, annual salary, or geographic area. What does all this mean? All types of people are using their time on social media sites.
Who are people connecting with on social media? According to Pew Research Center 93% of people are connecting with family members and 91% are connecting with current friends. 87% of people say they are connected to friends from their past and an astonishing 39% say they are connected to people they have never met in person. In fact, the median number of Facebook friends is 155 (wildly skewed because some people have thousands of friends while others have created a page strictly to share photos with a few long distance people) and the number of people that are considered actual friends is only 50. While the median numbers might not seem quite right, what we can conclude is that only about one third of people on a friends list are actual friends.
To find some statistics on social media and relationships I found a great site called ProCon.org. This site provides pros and cons for controversial issues and the full write up for social media can be found here. Although the site lists pros and cons for all areas of life, again I am only focusing on relationships. The basic pro to relationships for social media is to promote increased interaction with friends and family while the named cons are prevention of face-to-face time and wasting time on frivolous activity.
Pros for social media include an increasing online communication that strengthens relationships. 52% of teens on social media report that it has helped with relationships with friends. 88% state that social media helps them stay in touch with people they don’t see regularly and 57% say it helps make new friends. Seniors is actually the fastest growing demographic in social media and they report feeling happier and more connected due to online contact with family and friends. Social media also helps people who are shy or socially isolated feel more connected as it is a comfortable place to interact with others. It is also listed that social media helps facilitate face-to-face interaction because messages sent on these sites leads to a meeting. Not gonna lie…that one seems a little far fetched to me. How about we just pick up the phone and ask the friend to lunch!
The cons list on ProCon.org is a little bit longer than the pros list. One of the first cons listed is social media can lead to stress and offline relationship problems. 15% of adult social media users have experienced a friendship end due to a social media site, 12% of adult users state they have experienced a face-to-face argument because of social media and 3% report a physical confrontation due to social media. Another con is that social media is also considered a waste of time. Though I do enjoy a bit of connection and I can be inspired by a quote on Facebook I would have to agree that most of it is a waste of my time. I don’t remember what I read on there and if I was to be completely honest, most of the time I don’t really care. This cartoon sums up it up perfectly:
Some other cons that were listed include social media and internet usage being correlated with personality and brain disorders. The online phenomenon is creating a space where people have an inability to have in-person conversations, they have an need for instant gratification, they are becoming self-centered (insert the selfie craze) and it is also creating addictive behaviors. “Internet Addiction Disorder” is actually being evaluated for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Social media is also causing people to spend less time interacting face-to-face. 32% of social media users report using these platforms and texting during meals instead of talking to family and friends. This one is on my list of top pet peeves. I even once told a girlfriend that if she was done talking to me at lunch and her phone was more important that we should end the date. Seriously…I’m right in front of you!!!
Of all the statistics on the fabulous Procon.org page I found these two as the most disturbing:
*In July 2012 Americans spent a total of 121.1 BILLION minutes on social media sites. I’m sure that number has drastically increased as we are almost three years out as well. Crazy!
Top disturbing statistic as rated by Nicole:
*10% of people younger than 25 admitted responding to social media and text messages during sex.
WHAT?!? I don’t even want to believe this is true! There are so many things I have to say about this one but I don’t know where to start so maybe that’s my sign that I should just leave it alone. But seriously…if you’re reading and engaged in sexual activity at the same time, that might be a sign that you have a problem. Go ahead and focus on your partner and leave the social media for a different time. The great (and not so great) thing about the internet is that nothing really disappears, it will definitely be here when you are done.
I also found this article from Debra Fileta who is an author and creator of the blog True Love Dates. In the article Debra talks about the impact that social media has on our relationships. Some of the key points include:
*losing our warmth – we are missing out on those smiles (the yellow emoticon smileys just aren’t the same), those winks, and that look in someone’s eyes
*there is nothing more powerful than a real life connection – we hear about skin to skin contact being so important for infants and that doesn’t actually go away. Debra suggests that we are getting so caught up in the digital that we are forgetting the power of the physical
*becoming self-focused – social media is bringing back the self-centeredness of the the world. It’s all about how many likes or retweets we have and we are losing sight of the need to lift others up and be a generous people
*becoming self-absorbed – we are so focused on telling the world who we are and what we are doing that we don’t take time to know the world around us and engage in that
So as expected I was able to find arguments on both sides of the debate. In my opinion the debate on the harm of social media on our personal relationships was greater than the good it caused. Sure I would agree with you if you stated that your best friend or spouse was in the military and social media was the best way to stay in contact or that your grandmother lives 2000 miles away and this is how you can stay connected but as a culture I believe that we have become addicted. We were created to be in relationships with each other and I’m pretty sure that original plan didn’t include commenting on a Tweet or posting about what we had for lunch. Social media is training us to think of ourselves first and foremost and it’s also taking the dedication out of relationships.
We need to be putting our phone away when we’re having dinner. We need to stop posting everything about our day so that we have something to talk about when our spouse comes home or we meet up for happy hour with a friend. We need to hold hands and pat each other on the back. We need to see actual smiles instead of the ones made with characters on a keyboard. Relationships were made to be in person. Online communication lacks the emotion that our heart desires. We are getting so caught up in how much we are getting acknowledged online that we are failing to experience life in the moment.
I should be watching my kiddos play hockey instead of looking at someone else’s vacation photos, I should be having a conversation with my husband in the car instead of looking at my Facebook wall, I should be striking up a conversation with the mom next to me at the playground instead of pinning projects I’ll never do on Pinterest and maybe you should too. I should be doing those things because they will make relationships stronger. The relationships that really matter, the ones that are real and in front of me, the ones that are with the people that I love.
While there is a place for social media in our lives, it shouldn’t have the place that we give it. I challenge you to take a step back and really look at your social media usage and how it might be affecting your relationships. Think about what could happen if you logged off for a while and had a face-to-face conversation with someone. What could an extra 30 minutes a day do for your marriage, your kids, your best friend?