Social Media: Closer Together or Further Apart?

This satirical video with lyrics sung by Elliott Yamin (from American Idol) shows a relationship where interest in everything social media outweighs the real social relationship between the two people (boy and girl).

Even sitting right next to each other, they are texting and skyping as if they are a thousand miles away!

The boy keeps trying to get the girl to pay him some real attention–waving his arms, closing her computer lid, and even pretending to shoot himself–but nothing works. The girl is in social media heaven–or hell–and she just keeps on going online: Texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, Yelping, Grouponing, Blogging, Digging, YouTubing, and on and on.

The boy looks miserable and is proverbially screaming out: “hello, can’t we just be together for real?” But to her, the reality is attained ironically through connecting on social media.

While the video exaggerates the relationship dynamics as impacted by social media, it does acutely point out the many ways that connecting with others has changed in the age of social computing.

But is the change mostly positive or negative–does social media draw us closer or does it in a sense drive a virtual wedge between us?

This past week, the Wall Street Journal (16 August 2011) reported that studies show that “digital communications can lead to more or better friendships online and off, greater honesty, faster intimacy in relationships, and an increased sense of belonging...on the whole, technology appears to enhance real-world relationships.”

in particular, social media seems to be a type of panacea for shy and anxious people who report feeling “significantly less shy, more comfortable, and better accepted by their peers” when they are online than off. Additionally, the “frequent communications online could serve as a practice for in-person social interactions.”

When people are online, they feel perhaps safer, freer, and able to be themselves and this helps them connect with others in a way that is maybe more real than the facade they hide behind in the “real world.”

This can work in negative ways too like when people get behind the wheel of the car, they sort of think they are anonymous and you see them cursing, speeding, etc. In this case, they let their inhibitions go, and in it’s place you get things like road rage. Online too, you have creeps come out and say and do inappropriate things behind the veil of anonymity.

Social media provide tools for us to connect with others. And like any tool, social media can be used for good or bad: On the positive side, it can help us to reach out to others and connect, share, collaborate, and innovate. On the negative side, it can be used as escape from reality or even to conduct unethical or criminal activities.

How we use social media is up to us–the potential to go in either direction is very powerful.

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