So we connect a lot through social media. I’m a digital immigrant and yet I sport a Facebook site, accounts with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, a phone and of course Skype. That’s a small list compared to app-happy millennials who are digital natives.
Some critics praise social media for bringing us back together in the 2000's after television confined us to our living rooms from the 60's to the 90's. Now grandkids can chat with Oma up north cheaply and full-screen. Yet others point at the casual language of Likes, posts and comments and say we’ve lost the art of significant conversation, even if we call everyone a Friend.
My reading this week dug into that place where social media and relating meet, and I discovered a few myths that need debunking.
Myth 1: Using social media cheapens communication and leads to less satisfying relationships.
Actually, just the opposite. We know that technology doesn’t shape relationship quality, but that quality of relationships determines our use of social media. For example, people who are highly connected offline are highly connected online, but people who struggle in real-world relationships tend to use social media less. Also, even “thin” social media such as email and texting can draw us close if we say the right relational things and use emoticons well.
Myth 2: People are fake in their profiles and routinely lie to make themselves look good.
Part of this is right—we use social media to manage impressions people have of us. But except for a small percent of crooks, most people describe themselves in accurate terms on Facebook and even on dating sites. The ‘fake’ part is that we tend to post the happy, positive, beneficial aspects of our personality or accomplishments—which are true—but tend to avoid posting the negative. It’s like a big cocktail party—everyone’s putting their best foot forward. But we can’t get away with too much gloss, because some digital environments allow others to post comments and keep us in check. Also, knowing we might someday meet an online acquaintance offline keeps us honest.
Myth 3: The more Friends you have on Facebook, the more popular you seem to others.
Sorry, but the more Friends you have over 500, the more likely people will perceive you as needy, and their perceptions may be right. Self-esteem has been shown to predict the high and low end of how many Friends we keep online: people with lower esteem tend to compensate by Friending tons, or, conversely, shy away and Friend under 100 people. The sweet spot is the 150-300 range where most people fall who generally feel good about themselves.
Of course we all know people who don’t fit these trends, or who fit them for other reasons (like celebs attracting tons of Friends.)
Social media seem to be an extension of our emotions, identities and offline friendships. This prompts the idea that if we invest in good friends face-to-face, we can enjoy rich virtual connection too.
Source: Chambers, Deborah, Social Media and Personal Relationships: Online Intimacies and Networked Friendship (Palgrave-McMillan, 2013).
Bill Strom, Author
I am a believer by faith, a professor by vocation, a husband by choice, a father by blessing, and a friend by hanging out. Along the way I have learned about close relating through my experiences, biblical models, and social science research. Hopefully my ideas and encouragement show up here in ways meaningful to you.