Welcome back to Culture Critique! Hope you all enjoyed the last blog post, titled The Glamorization of Eating Disorders. If not, I hope you’ll find 2 minutes to have a little catch-up.
This week’s post is something a little different, but was one of my original ideas when I was first brainstorming ideas for this little blog. I’ll be looking at the way in which social media affects our relationships, romantic, professional and social. It’s hard to ignore, whether we realise it or not, social media has become a huge part of all of our lives and to deny that it has any effect would be incredibly naïve. From posting about how you hate your job, to liking stranger’s photos, to using apps to see if you’re compatible with someone romantically, there’s no end to the ways in which social media interacts and interferes with all of our relationships.
You always hear about how technology is destroying our social skills, so I thought it would be interesting to start by exploring whether there have been any credible studies that would support this suggestion. The University of Oxford did a study in April last year (2013) titled Social Media: The Perils and Pleasures (read here). The study found a strong connection between the number of media channels a person used, how often they used them and their ability to sustain personal relationships. Over 24,000 participants took part, all of whom were married, and results showed that social media did not help their relationships and in many cases hindered them. Those that used more than 5 channels (Facebook, email, texting, IM’s etc.) saw a 14% drop in marriage satisfaction. The study’s conclusion suggests that ‘there may be a cut-off point after which the increasing complexity of maintaining so many separate communications threads starts to undermine relationship ties’. If social media is affecting married couples this much, it’s worrying how much it could potentially be damaging younger people, as they use these sites the most. Are we so absorbed by them that we don’t notice? Let’s have a little think…
Whilst thinking about that, I found a really interesting YouTube video (above), titled The Innovation of Loneliness and created by graphic designer Shimi Cohen. The clip explores the connection between social media and loneliness, with the words originally being taken from Sherry Turkles TED talk (here). He begins with some really brilliant points about how despite making us feel like we have hundreds of friends, and that our voice is being heard, what these sites are in fact doing is isolating us from society; Shimi says ‘we’re sacrificing conversation for a mere connection’. Just take a minute to think. How many of your Facebook friends do you actually have a real connection with? As Cohen says, studies have shown that humans find it impossible to intimately know more than 150 people. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with 5. I have around 500 friends on Facebook (friend being a term the site uses) and if I’m honest, I would only stop to say hello to a handful of them if I saw them walking down the street. So why do we insist on having so many random connections? Cohen suggests that it’s because social media ‘let’s us present ourselves as we want to be’. It would be possible to suggest that social media has made us care far more about our self-image than we did before and in many cases, more than the people we are presenting this image too. I know that when I get a notification that I’ve been tagged in a photo my first thought is ‘oh god, I hope it’s not too ugly’. Why do we care so much? I have no idea! I’m the girl that walks around Tesco with no make-up on, wearing tracksuit bottoms. So why do I, and so many others, seem to place importance on keeping up a façade on these sites? As we’ve seen, it seems to result in strained relationships, as the image is nigh-impossible to keep up.
An article on Elite Daily depicts The 10 Ways That Social Media Has Killed the Modern Relationship (here). Many of the things listed in this piece relate to Cohen’s argument; we become too preoccupied in maintaining a certain image, which causes us to isolate ourselves from the real world. Despite the sarcastic tone, the article raises some relatable points. Whether it’s comparing your happiness to that of another couple (which is a contradiction in itself, as we’ve just established that the person you present yourself as online, often, is rather far from reality) or arguing over your other half liking someone else’s photo, social media undoubtedly has an impact on romantic relationships. Scott Bea, a clinical psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, says that ‘although social media helps connect people, it also has the ability to evoke jealousy’. He furthered this idea by carrying out a small experiment using Google search engine. He typed “Is my…” and then alternated with wife / husband / partner in and the word “cheating” appeared in the top 4 auto-fill results of each. So confirming this question is one of the most popular searches on the world’s biggest search engine, confirms the question as to whether social media is detrimental to maintaining relationships. Bea goes on to say ‘what is supposed to be recreational entertainment sometimes evolves into cyber-stalking, which takes away from the human experience of romance, and makes it secondary to monitoring our significant other’s every move online’. There’s a reason by other half refers to one of the biggest social networks as ‘dangerbook’, these sites have the ability to affect our happiness.
It’s not just romantic relationships that can be affected either. So if you think you got off lightly there, sorry to break the bad news. When I use the word ‘relationship’, I don’t just mean it in a romantic way; friendships and professional relationships can also be hugely affected by this technological phenomenon. In this day and age (god I sound old) we’ve probably all been at the brunt of a social media based argument. ‘Omg you blocked me’, ‘why won’t you follow me back’, ‘that message was clearly about me, why don’t you just tag me in it’… the list of common phrases could go on forever.
Scarily, this online obsession seems to frequently threaten our working life. Researching this topic, it became clear that being fired because of something relating to social media seems as common of a reason as one not doing their job properly. An article on the Business Insider describes 17 People Who Were Fired For Using Facebook. The reasons begin with a waitress writing a status about receiving bad tips and goes on to depict instances such as people claiming to have migraines to take a day off work, only later to be found having been active online. You can read about the rest of the examples given here – (some of them are pretty funny actually!). I wasn’t aware until recently those things like this were taken so seriously by employers, but in a world where these sites are so influential to us, it’s no wonder. Would you employ someone if you knew they had slated their last employer online? Technology and social media have advanced so quickly that perhaps we aren’t educated enough to understand the serious-ness of voicing every aspect of our lives online. Don’t get me wrong, it’s common sense not to write ‘I hate my job @ *name of employer*’, but it’s not always as clear cut as that. The article we have just spoken about used a former teacher as an example. This woman went on holiday and visited a brewery, posting photos of her holding the beer. This apparently was good enough reason to fire her. To me that sounds like total nonsense! Her account was ‘private’ and it was during her holiday, not in her school! But how do you draw the line?
The common theme, whether it is about romantic, social or professional relationships, is that there is no black and white guide between what is acceptable and what isn’t. It’s not as simple as using your common sense any more. Perhaps we need to remember, that privacy is non-existent online and you can NEVER guarantee that only those on your friend/follow list will see. Maybe we all need to take a step back – log out of these sites so our lives are not plagued with notifications. Maybe go one step further and allow ourselves to indulge in cyber free down time. Phones off, laptops down and try to remember how people used to spend their time. Harder than you might think?
Thanks for reading!