Caution: Social Media Ahead!

The article I chose, “4 Ways Social Media is Changing Your Relationships” focuses on the ways in which social media has changed/altered our business, as well as personal, relationships. The author of the article, Dr. Rachna Jain is a trained psychologist and works as a social marketer, hence the emphasis on business relationships. She sets out four major trends in social media: 1. social media allows us to connect with more people, 2. social media makes it easy to overestimate levels of intimacy, 3. social media allows for the “social media contagion effect,” and 4. social media allows for us to compare ourselves with others. She ends the article with tips on how to benefit from social media.

I was reminded of a couple of Baym‘s points while reading this article such as reach and voyeurism. The article opens up about the capabilities of social media, such as allowing one to have a broader social network than one would have been able to sustain in real life. She speaks about how broad social networks allow for better business because they lead to more resources and more room for outsourcing which could gather a whole range of opinions. On the non-business spectrum, she states that social media makes it easier to approach people you want to get to know and also allows one to influence a greater mass of people. This concept of reach is not only limited to reaching others with a message, but with one’s emotions as well. The ‘social media contagion effect‘ explains how loneliness (as well as pretty much any other emotion) can be transmitted via social media; if one of your social media contacts shows extreme loneliness research by John Cacioppo shows that you are more likely to be lonely. The concept of voyeurism popped into my head in the section in which Jain talks about the difference between online and offline intimacy. Social media, as Baym points out, allows for voyeurism in which we could end up feeling as though we truly know someone even though all we are getting to know is the online profile which they have created to show the world. Jain explains how this voyeurism can lead to a false interpretation/overestimation of intimacy with our online contacts.

As with any story, I think this particular story was presented with a specific agenda in mind. Although it opens up on a positive note (how social media can positively broaden our social networks) it quickly takes a turn to reveal all of the negative effects of social media. Jain’s second point about how social media allows one to overestimate intimacy sets up social media as this blurred reality in which we as users are incapable of telling the difference between true connections and false ones. Her third point about the social media contagion effect I found to be even more extreme. Sure, there are times in which I’m sitting on Facebook and reading some of my friends’ bitter posts and I find myself feeling a little bothered, but I don’t think that a negative or angry status has the power to completely alter my mood. I think people have more agency over their emotions than this article gives credit. Her fourth and last point about comparing ourselves to others is also valid, but does not take into account that these comparisons have occurred off-line for centuries before social media ever existed. The final reason I think this article is presented in a cautionary way against social media is because of the way it is concluded with tips on how to benefit from social media. She is in essence emphasizing that her previous points were highlighting the negative consequences of social media use but that there should be no fear because ‘there’s still hope!’

Since the article does slightly address both the positive and negative aspects of social media effects of interpersonal relationships I do think that it could/should have been presented differently. With her first point, for instance, I think that she focused only on the pros of being able to connect more rapidly with others but forgot to address the cons. She could have talked about how personal relationships are strained or seem to diminish in value due to the influx of connections we are able to create nowadays. She could have talked about how the ‘social media contagion effect’ can be used in a positive way to influence and uplift those we interact with over social media.

I do see similarities between how this article is presented and the presentation of the stories in Life 2.0. The movie, as we discussed in class, seemed to be a cautionary tale of social media gone too far. This article, although much less extreme than the film, also stands as a cautionary tale of what one may have to deal with due to over-exposure to social media, which is why one of the tips at the very end of the article is to “Limit the time you spend on social networks.” Like I said before, every story is told with a certain agenda and through a specific lens, but that does not mean that it is not one’s duty to explain that although these extreme cases exist, there are a range of other less-extreme cases out there as well.

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