Meaningful Relationships in the Age of Social Media

Today, social media platforms are an integral part of life. The public has considered Internet communication a controversial topic due to concerns that it might replace actual socialization. The research presented in this paper shows that social media serves to maintain existing relationships and extend the network of acquaintances. It alleviates the limits imposed by time and space, making it more convenient to stay in touch. Besides, social media generates a higher level of support that is required for a person’s confidence. According to the research, the impact of Internet communication is positive rather than negative, and there are many ways in which it can be utilized to benefit society.

Today social media platforms are more popular than ever, which concerns some individuals, as they are afraid that actual relationships between people will lose their importance. As the focus shifts towards online presence, it becomes more difficult to maintain social ties in real life. Indeed, it may seem that online interactions are less demanding and more convenient, as they are not limited by geography. Being able to communicate with a person from the other side of the country or the world is actually easier than socializing in real life, which threatens the concept of offline relationships. The purpose of this paper is to analyze whether social media made people less capable of creating and maintaining meaningful social relationships.

Undoubtedly, social networks have had a significant influence on society over the past decades. The rise of their popularity inevitably attracted the attention of researchers that wanted to examine the impact of social media platform on interpersonal interaction. There is a belief that the accessibility of online communication is slowly killing actual relationships, as people tend to flee to the Internet, where it is easier to socialize. As a result, real friends are lost in favor of online acquaintances. Nevertheless, Sutcliffe et al. (2018) state that online communication does not replace but expand real-life social circles. According to the research, the two groups of relationships for an average individual mostly overlap (Sutcliffe et al., 2018). In other words, people communicate online with those they have already met in person.

However, the online circle tends to grow faster than its offline counterpart does. In fact, according to Sutcliffe et al. (2018), social media frees people from the constraints they suffer in real life. Offline relationships are limited in both space and time; i.e., all participants’ schedules and locations must coincide, otherwise, communication is impossible. Online services alleviate the constraints, as it allows people to stay in touch, despite temporal and geographical factors. Therefore, social media strengthens pre-existing relationships and facilitates the creation of the new ones. Also, Sutcliffe et al. (2018) state that online communication is a significant factor that contributes to people’s self-esteem and confidence. The research shows that “individuals with low levels of social support have higher levels of morbidity and mortality” (Sutcliffe et al., 2018, p. 228). Maintaining an active online presence widens the range of acquaintances and allows users to exchange their achievements, thus having a positive experience and a good impact on their lives.

On the other hand, the downsides of social media are often described and considered detrimental to one’s well-being. While the accessibility of online communication makes it easier to stay in touch despite limits imposed by space and time, it might discourage people from working on actual relationships. In other words, one may find it easier to reduce interactions with others down to short dialogues over the Internet, rather than making an effort to keep offline friends. Pollet et al. (2011) argue that social media relationships are not as intense or intimate as they could be in the real world. In this case, users may prefer quantity to quality, having many people on their friend’s list, whereas they would not consider them actual friends in real life. According to the research conducted by Pollet et al. (2011), active social media users “reported being slightly less close on average with their support group and friends” (p. 256). Moreover, the results did not show any correlation between time spent online and emotional closeness.

Therefore, social media relationships are usually limited in terms of emotional intensity and do not evolve past a certain point due to the lack of personal communication and non-verbal factors. Pollet et al. (2011) mention that their research contradicts previous findings and suppose that the tendency may be shaped by age-specific factors. It is possible that further analysis of social media impact on society will yield different results depending on the focus group.

All in all, the rise of Internet communication is the reality of the 21st century. Naturally, social media’s appearance alarmed the public because it was seen as a means to replace real-life interaction, which is an integral part of society. However, as the phenomenon in question evolved, studies unraveled several ways in which online media can be utilized to benefit society, rather than being detrimental to it. The effect of Internet media is determined by the ways it is applied. Ideally, social media should complement real-life communication by expanding opportunities over space and time, rather than replacing it altogether.

References

Pollet, T.V., Roberts, S.G.B., & Dunbar, R.I.M. (2011). Use of social network sites and instant messaging does not lead to increased offline social network size, or to emotionally closer relationships with offline network members. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(4), 253-258. Web.

Sutcliffe, A.G., Binder, J.F., & Dunbar, R.I.M. (2018). Computers in Human Behavior, 85, 227–235. Web.

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