I have been involved with an event that focuses on teaching fifth through tenth graders about manners, respect, and bullying and internet safety. My part in the event is discussing manners and respect for yourself and others. While talking with the participants earlier today, we discussed how cellphones have become the mainstay of their communication with each other. When I asked them why, the response was that they didn’t know how to communicate without using the internet.
This is sad to me, but it is becoming more and more the reality with the younger generation. Their responses led me to think about how emerging media, mainly social media, impacts our relationships. “All the content you create, all the following you build, each of these is designed to create and foster more intimate relationships with people, in some cases, people you might not have met any other way.” Social media allows us to connect with larger groups at people all at once and also allows us to instantly connect with people from all over the world without the charges of long distance calls, etc. This can have a positive or negative effect on users.
The negative aspect of this condition is that it allows us to potentially over-estimate the level of intimacy with others. Reading words instead of hearing someone speaking them can allow us to read things into the messages that aren’t really there. People can be easily be taken in by reading emotion into a conversation that may not actually be there. It may create a feeling of trust that can result in physical, emotional or financial harm.
Another negative of social media is that “you’re more susceptible to the Social Media Contagion Effect.” What does this mean? You will connect with people who are of the same mind as you. For instance, if you are lonely then the people you tend to connect with are also lonely. If you are a person who is typically cynical then your relationships may be with others who have the same personality trait versus having friends who balance those things out in you. These connections may eventually cause you to react in ways you wouldn’t ordinarily, thus the contagion effect.
Another downside to social media is that we have the ability to see other people’s lives on a regular basis and it allows us to compare ourselves with others. This can be both positive and negative. It can help us to realize that our lives aren’t as bad as we may believe, but it also can allow us to feel that we don’t measure up and that our life isn’t anything special.
So, how do we overcome the negatives of social media? “Limit the time you spend on social networks; monitor your own emotions and reactions; take care not to compare yourself too often to others; set goals for your business relationships; [and most importantly] maintain a balance between your online and offline life.”
With new programs and ways of communicating emerging all the time, these are pitfalls we want to make sure we teach to our children to avoid as well as to learn ourselves. Social media can be a positive experience if we create checks and balances for its use.