With the advent of the Internet, mankind as a whole was faced with a number of changes. The way we did business changed. The way we bought and sold goods changed. Perhaps one of the biggest changes that the Internet brought about was the way in which we communicate with one another. Shortly after the Internet reached unforeseen heights, social media sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr were launched. While some may argue that the Internet, and social media websites in particular, have had a negative impact on the ways in which we communicate and on our interpersonal relationships, this paper will argue that social media websites have actually opened up new ways of communication, opened doors for new friendships, and even changed the way in which intimate relationships develop, bringing people closer together than ever before. Prior to the introduction of social media websites, platonic relationships were limited to a close circle of friends, family, friends of family, and friends of friends. To network and meet new people, individuals could either go to networking events or ask current friends to introduce them to others.
The growth of social media, however, has changed all of that. Social media has opened up the floodgates of conent sharing, personal commentaries, and new ways for users to find other individuals who have similar interests, likes, and dislikes (Ozguven & Mucan, 2013). Using social media platforms such as Facebook, users with like minds get to know one another, fostering new relationships in the online world. A person who once had only a handful of close friends whom they spoke to every week or so prior to the advent of Social Media may now literally have hundreds of even thousands of Facebook “friends” with whom they communicate on a daily basis. Not only is the way in which friendships are built evolving, but so is the number of friends the average person has and the frequency with which those friends communicate. While grandparents who lived in another state used to have to wait for pictures of their grandchildren to arrive in the mail, now they can merely log into their social media accounts and see pictures of their family members on a regular basis.
There is no doubt that the Internet has increased the efficiency of the human race as a whole, and that extends to the activities performed using social media. As Ozguven and Mucan point out, very few studies have been conducted regarding social media use in relation to different personality traits. What has been established, however, is that certain personality traits can somewhat predict just how a person will behave online using these sites. It has been established that introverted people are more likely to be open and communicate via the Internet and social media websites (Ozguven & Mucan, 2013). Introverts may find it difficult to develop face-to-face relationships, whereas the anonymity of the Internet allows those who are introverted to feel safer reaching out to those they do not know as it is not a face-to-face environment. In cases such as these, social networking sites make it possible for extremely introverted individuals to develop and foster relationships they may not otherwise have had the skills or ability to develop.
It is not only adults who benefit from using Social Media to communicate. Children are quickly becoming consumers of social media as well. According to recent surveys, 82 percent of children go online by 7th grade and, on average, utilize social media websites for 6.5 hours per day (Coyl, 2009). While it is said that some of these children spend more time online than they do face-to-face with family and peers, one should also consider that many of these children may very well be children who are shy or different in some manner or another and would be ostracized by their peers due to these factors. Therefore, the increased social media use by these children may actually mean that these children are being provided with socialization opportunities that they otherwise would not have had. Some studies even indicate that social media activities can have a positive impact on a teen’s social interaction with his or her family and friends as well as increased community and political interest (Shim, 2007).
It is important to note there are differences between the various social media sites and services on the Web. Through Facebook, users are able to give status updates, share media, and communicate with one another via comments sections to other users’ status updates. Twitter, on the other hand, allows one to communicate with his or her “friends” in real time via mobile device or computer using just 140 characters or less (Hogge, 1996). What can one possibly “tweet” about each and every day that is so important, but limit the communication to less than 140 characters? It is not necessarily the importance of what is being tweeted. After all, some people merely tweet about how they enjoyed the latest movie they went to or what they had for dinner (Hogge, 1996). While twitter is not the place to go for cutting-edge news and information, it is a way to feel “connected” to ones circle of Twitter friends. When you are in constant contact with your friends, updating each other as to even the smallest things in life, it is hard for a feeling of bonding and comradery not to develop.
One could argue that people are replacing the quality of friendships they have for quantity when it comes to social media platforms and websites. After all, Facebook allows you to have up to 5,000 friends on your friends list, and still more can even follow your Facebook activity without actually being your “friend” if you allow them to. The question would arise then, that can a person really have quality relationships with 5,000 friends. That question is further exemplified by the fact that one MySpace executive actually managed to friend a potato. An actual starchy vegetable had its own MySpace page and it somehow got to become “friends” with an executive at MySpace. Just how many friends did the potato have? At the time Levy wrote his article, the potato had nearly 3,000 friends on MySpace (Levy, 2008). Now, no one could argue that a potato is actually capable of fostering meaningful friendships, but one could argue that if a potato is able to develop 3,000 connections on MySpace, even the shyest and most introverted of our population will be able to develop and foster friendships via these social media websites.
Some could further argue that not only does the Internet and social media in particular open up doors for people who have a hard time building face-to-face relationships, but it also allows people to develop friendships with people whom they would never have otherwise had an opportunity to talk to. The Internet closes geographical gaps, allowing people to expand their circle of friends from the radius near where they live and work to a global scale. Furthermore, these sites allow people to network and become friends with individuals whom they would not have had any other way of becoming friends with. In an interview with Jamie Dale-Jensen, a Facebook user who is known for being friends with rock stars such as Wayne Swinny and Jon Montoya from Saliva, Jasen Moreno from Drowning Pool, and Ziggy Goldsby of ZGG USA on Facebook, Dale-Jensen stated, “Had it not been for Facebook I would never have had the opportunity to communicate with these people and develop friendships with them.
Through my network of friends I was able to branch out and become friends with even more people in the music industry. Not only does social media help a person create relationships, but the networking opportunities are unsurpassed,” (J. Dale-Jensen, personal communication, October 29, 2014). However, platonic relationships are far from the only relationships being developed on Facebook and other social media sites. Many have found romantic relationships online, and not through a dating site, but through the use of social media platforms. While there have been many studies conducted on romantic relationships in general, relatively few studies have been conducted on relationships that evolve online in a social media setting (Anderson & Emmers-Sommer, 2006). In a study conducted on 235 adult participants, researchers found that nearly 94 percent of the study participants had formed an online relationship of some form, whether it be romantic or platonic in nature.
Furthermore, of those who did develop an online relationship, when researching the breadth and depth of the relationship, researchers found that commitment, predictability, and understanding of one another were considered as being moderate to high in nature. In addition, nearly one-third of the participants’ online relationships had progressed from being solely online to in-person relationships (Anderson & Emmers-Sommer, 2006). This would indicate that relationships that develop online are just as strong and likely to grow as relationships that develop offline. In addition, in another study involving interviews of 60 Internet users who were involved in online relationships, the study indicated that the participants involved in online relationships reported relationship characteristics of a “traditional” relationship, naming trust and commitment as being important components of their relationships.
In fact, couples in online relationships may spend more time communicating and may communicate more effectively, resulting in an increased chance of relationship success (Anderson & Emmers-Sommer, 2006). Some could argue that intimacy is an important part of any relationship and that physical intimacy is a must for a romantic one. However, it may be possible that intimacy, in the true sense of the word, is more prevalent in online relationships where it may be easier to bare one’s soul to another human being. In a healthy relationship, emotional intimacy is just as important, if not more important, as physical intimacy. While the relationship blossoms online, emotional intimacy may be achieved at a quicker pace as couples are completely focused on one another during online conversations and chats. Day-to-day activities are shared and updates are given multiple times per day. The social media platform allows for regular and consistent communication and intimacy before physical intimacy is even an option.
This may actually build stronger relationships than the current face-to-face dating world produces. According to an article written in 2000 by Erich Merkle and Rhonda Richardson, nowadays a person requires very little more than a computer, an Internet connection, and the ability to converse to find his or her soul mate (Merkle & Richardson, 2000). This is a far leap from a society where arranged marriages were the norm just a few short centuries ago, when parents picked the proper spouse for their children. It has definitely increased one’s chances of finding the perfect mate if one considers the drastic increase in “choices” one has when it comes to finding a suitable partner. Whereas before people were limited to dating services, friends, friends of friends and even children of parents’ friends, now they are limited by nothing but time. The reach to find a potential suitable partner is literally worldwide, with the Internet bridging gaps that have never before been bridged. The online romantic relationships that are being created today are redefining how relationships develop.
In the past, mutual attraction was enough to spark off a relationship. In the online world, however, the development of a relationship seems to be “deeper” in nature and not as superficial as a relationship founded on mutual physical attraction. In the online world, the need for spatial proximity diminishes (Merkle & Richardson, 2000) and users of social media platforms begin to relate to one another on a more emotional level as candid self-disclosure becomes more comfortable with the anonymity that the Internet allows. In addition, physical attractiveness becomes less important as mutual interests and emotional bonding (Merkle & Richardson, 2000). Therefore, not only does the Internet increase one’s chances of finding a suitable mate, but it also increases the chances of a rewarding relationship in which both parties are emotionally vested rather than being physically vested. Of course, the face-to-face relationship cannot be replaced by the online relationship that could develop on a social media site.
After all, at some point, physical intimacy becomes a real need and a marriage requires two people to cohabitate. The argument of this paper, however, is not that social media networks have replaced the need for physical relationships, but rather that it has enhanced the way in which people communicate and can find one another to begin with. Rather than being a replacement for traditional relationships, social media platforms enhance the way in which relationships can and do develop. Furthermore, those who do get married or are in committed relationships outside of the virtual world may find additional bonding opportunities in the virtual world, making it easier for couples to communicate with each other throughout the day and creating an environment of transparency that could add to the trust and security one feels within their relationship. The actual success of online relationships that are developed via platforms such as social media is yet to be determined, as there has not been enough empirical research done on the matter.
What one can say for certainty, however, is that the rate at which these relationships is growing is most definitely increasing. Aside from romantic relationships, there is no reason to believe that the platonic friendships that develop online have any less depth or caring than face-to-face friendships of the more traditional nature. Prior to the advent of social media, friends may talk on the phone once or twice a week if they were very close. Now friends communicate multiple times per day, tweeting messages and posting status updates to keep all friends informed as to their daily life, and communicating on a daily basis via comments and “like” icons. If anything, these platforms may not only grow the number of friends a person has, but may also enrich real-world friendships through virtual communication. Even senior citizens can benefit from the use of social media.
As seniors become familiar with technology and families teach their elderly family members to utilize social media, grandparents can communicate more effectively with their grandchildren and other family members. Even a grandmother living in a nursing home can be helped by the boundaries that are lifted when social media networks come into play. Not only can this help keep one’s mind sharp, but it can also help to keep them connected to others. Needless to say, there is no lack of evidence that the virtual world and the social media platforms and websites that make up a part of it help expand an individual’s social circle and assist in creating lasting, meaningful relationships on both a romantic and platonic level. The Internet has indeed changed the way we communicate, but it has not isolated us as some would lead us to believe. Instead, it very well may have brought us all closer together, making the world a smaller place and fostering and nurturing friendships that may not have otherwise existed.
While there is something to be said for the benefits of face-to-face friendships, there is nothing to say one has to be replaced with the other. Instead, the two can compliment each other if used wisely. And for those who are unable to communicate in the real world due to social anxiety and other similar disorders, the Internet may very well be a social lifesaver for these individuals, providing them with the anonymity they need in order to feel comfortable enough to express themselves and develop meaningful relationships that can enhance their lives for the better. Of course, there is always the potential to have too much of a good thing. So it is not whether or not social media is used that should be the issue for those who believe it is devaluing relationships in today’s day and age, but rather how it is used that should matter. For the proper use of these websites and platforms can indeed enhance relationships and one’s social interactions.
Anderson, Traci L. & Emmers-Sommer, Tara M. (2006) “Predictors of Relationship Satisfaction in Online Romantic Relationships.” Communication Studies. 57 (2) 57-65. Coyl, Diana D. (2009) Kids Really Are Different These Days: Kids Today Aren’t the Same as They Were Even a Few Years Ago. Social and Technological Changes Are Having an Effect on Their Social Development. Phi Delta Kappan, 90 (6) 404-408. Hogge, Becky. (2008) A Twit’s Paradise: Is the Internet “Inane”? Yes, and My Friendships Are All the Stronger for It, Writes Becky Hogge. New Statesmen, 137 (4879) 50-52. Levy, Steven. (2008). How Many Friends Is Too Many? Newsweek, 151 (21) 15-17. Merkle, Erich R. & Richardson, Rhonda A. (2000) Digital Dating and Virtual Relating: Conceptualizing Computer Mediated Romantic Relationships. Family Relations, 49 (2) 187-211. Ozguven, Nihan & Mucan, Burcu. (2013) The Relationship between Personality Traits and Social Media Use. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 41 (3) 517-519. Shim, Young Soo. (2007) The Impact of the Internet on Teenagers’ Face-to-Face Communication.
Global Media Journal, 6 (10)