Social media and the disintegration of barriers
The social media phenomenon has fundamentally shifted society’s way of being and its impact on the way we communicate is undisputedly substantial. Connection apps such as Tinder and Skype have revolutionized the way people meet and communicate. Platforms such as Facebook and Skype allow users to remain connected to near and dear ones. A person on one side of the globe can instantly connect with another in a matter of seconds. Moreover, people can even find new friendships and possibly even love.
Tinder, for instance, a dating app launched in 2012, helps users find romantic partners. Although the concept of online dating (or even social media) is not exactly new, its reach extends a lot farther today than it did before. Unlike a few generations ago where matches were made in a more traditional style and people who sought relationships over the net were seen as desperate, thus making online dating frowned upon, the perspective today is very different. It’s much more socially acceptable and has become rather common, with nearly half the US population engaging in the medium or knowing someone who has.
Apart from personal benefits, social media also offers professional benefits as well, such as the opportunity to promote brands, connect with consumers and even find employment. LinkedIn, a professional networking site launched in 2003, aims to “power your career”, by allowing individuals to create an online business profile and connect with colleagues. Active in over 200 countries, this site alone caters to more than 380 million users, making LinkedIn one of the most popular networking sites in use today.
With a digital network that’s instantly accessible by billions, several barriers have been challenged and condensed. Geographical barriers, for example, are essentially non-existent thanks to communication technology. Anyone with an Internet connection and a social media account can join the ever-growing world of virtual space and forge a connection. Be it Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, Pinterest or any other social networking site, the opportunities for connecting with likeminded individuals¾or not¾is plentiful.
Virtual relationships – just not real enough
“With all the powerful social technologies at our fingertips, we are more connected - and potentially more disconnected - than ever before.”
~ Susan Tardanico
Seeing as how the stigma of online dating has significantly decreased over time, it seems inevitable that finding friendships and romantic interests will be a very common ground in the near future.
However, with all the apparent gains that social media has to offer, it is necessary to acknowledge that not everything is as fine and dandy as it may appear. For instance, in the need to feel liked and accepted in the online community, people often hide behind the guise of inauthenticity and put up distorted images of self. For those seeking partnerships, it’s important to understand that what may appear on the surface might be far from the truth. Some people wear masks in order to project a happy and successful life, which can later spark feelings of insecurity and lowered self-esteem. The need to impress followers, friends and other online members can also run deep, thereby distancing the real person from their online representation. Rather than being confident and secure from within, feelings of worth strangely seem to originate from the outside based on the number of followers, friends and the like.
For this reason, virtual relationships, especially ones through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, seem to be about competition. How many re-tweets did a post get? How many followers and friends does one have? The desire to reach a wider audience, regardless of the quality of connection, seems to matter. Of course, not everyone who uses these platforms falls victim to such a mentality; however, that does not exclude the fact that there are some who form relationships online for the primary purpose of increasing their network.
Additionally, virtual relationships that happen at the expense of real ones can be superficial and inhibiting. The former by any means shouldn’t dominate the latter. How often have you seen someone smiling while texting and completely withdrawing from a social event? For human beings, physical proximity, intimacy, and touch all play an important role in relationships. Yet, we seem to pay way more attention to virtual connections than to the ones that surround us.
So, how do we combat our growing dependency on social media without disengaging from the world around us? Balance. While social media offers enticing escapes into a completely new world, it is the world away from online communication that we truly do¾and should¾live in. Regardless of how “real” the connection may seem, virtual relationships simply do not offer the much-needed human connection we all need. Learning to reap the benefits that social media indeed has to offer while maintaining a healthy distance from it is a skill we will need to develop.
Future trend of virtual relationships – a growing illusion of “real”
As an increasing number of people forge and sustain relationships through online sites, the future of virtual relationships seems to shine bright. Online dating and friendships will be well integrated into mainstream culture (not that they aren’t already!), and the choice to seek partnerships for all sorts of reasons will be ample, especially as communication technology continues to spread.
Yet, what appears normal might be quite disabling in the future to a certain degree. The need for touch, for example, might be viewed as strange. Physical in-person relationships, which are vital to human existence, might be on the back burner. Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist at Stanford, states: “We may stop ‘needing’ or craving real social interactions because they may become foreign to us.”
Seeing as how society today is mostly glued to their smartphones or some other electronic device, this doesn’t come as too big a shock. Nevertheless, the fact that humans might completely disengage from real interactions is downright appalling. The need for touch, despite all the technological advancements we may see, can never be replaced. After all, it’s a basic human need. Texts, emoticons, and online videos simply do not substitute for authentic human contact.
The paradox seems to be that despite being more “connected” than ever before, connection today is at its weakest. While virtual relationships have become amplified, social isolation, ironically, has too. As Shelley Bonanno rightly puts it: “Online friendships, while certainly valuable in many ways, lack the ability to provide us with opportunities for deep and lasting emotional closeness.” It’s time that occasionally at least we switch off from our online networking sites and humanly connect with those around us. As virtual connections soar, the need for real connections must, too.