Seeing Is Believing?

Nowadays many romantic relationships are no longer personal, but are rather displayed on social media sites to a wide range of audience who are able to ‘comment’ or ‘like’ each other’s personal statuses and affairs. Without a doubt, media and technology has found its a way to impact our interpersonal relationships and everyday lives in the twenty-first century. In the article, 4 Ways Social Media Is Changing Your RelationshipsDr. Rachna Jain discusses the four different ways social media affects our relationships, including the pros and cons. Jain first points out the easiness of being able to connect to a lot of people, expanding networks, and possibly meeting others with the same interests as us. This includes getting to know someone we want to know better or merely expanding connections in the professional world. Secondly, Jain states that social media allows people to overestimate the level of intimacy in relationships online, “One big mistake is that it’s easy to confuse digital intimacy for true intimacy.”  What she means is that because of the easiness the internet and social media provide for people to connect with one another, people then might ignore their friends in the physical world to give more attention to those friends via the internet, which can in turn create problems such as the ones we’ve seen in Life 2.0 about an addicting cyber game called Second Life. Jain also mentions another downside to social media called the “Contagion Effect”, which is the degree/likelihood of other social media users’ moods transmitting over affecting your own mood. Say someone messages something negative or hostile to us, we may in turn feel this negativity and possibly transpose this onto ourselves or even worse, someone else. Lastly, Jain proposes that social media enables us to constantly compare ourselves to others, enabling us to feel inferior and diminished.

Based on the article by Jain, I feel that Jain did a pretty good job in pin-pointing out four very important ways social media impact our lives. I can see all the ways the different stories in Life 2.0 fall into the four categories. The first point that Jain brings up, which is the way social media allows us to connect with one another, covers all three of the different relationships portrayed in the documentary with Amy, having been “dating” Steven in Second Life for the course of nine months, the guy who’s avatar was an eleven year old girl allowing him to “find” himself through the game, and the woman whose avatar was a high-end clothing/housing designer making a six-digit figure income from Second Life. All three of the people were making some sort of connection through the game.  With Jain’s second point, which is the tendency for us to overestimate the level of intimacy of online relationships, we may clearly interpret that Amy and Steven’s relationship in the virtual world appeared to be very “real” to both of them. They were triggered both emotionally and mentally as shown in the film. Amy and Steven both initially overestimated the intimacy of their relationship in Second Life, thinking that it’ll easily transpose over to the real world, first life. But when they actually moved in (in the physical world) for a longer period of time, they found each other to be not exactly who they thought they were in the virtual world. We can see from the film that Amy wasn’t paying much attention to her daughter because of her focus on her new love interest, who was encouraged by her mother to join in a virtual game in her own age group herself just exactly as Jain proposed the problem to be like: The problem of ignoring the people in the real world for people in the cyber world. For Jain’s third point of becoming more vulnerable to others’ behaviors and moods via social media, we can see that the guy whose avatar was Aaya Aabye, an eleven year old girl, became attached to his avatar and the life Aaya had proposed in Second Life because of the lifestyle and friends he had met along in the game, which in turn transmitted over to his own thoughts and conclusion of the fact that he “found” himself through the game. The last point Jain proposed was the risk of constantly comparing ourselves to others, which can be seen with the example of Asri Falcon. Asri made a living designing clothes, skin, and housing on Second Life, but because there’s all this “competition” in the game, she filed a lawsuit to a man who was suspected to be stealing her products and copying and selling them at knock-off prices. This all seems to fit accurately into Jain’s four points.

I see the film, Life 2.0 presented these Second Life “addicts” in a very negative light. The stories depicted were certainly not mundane and ordinary, but rather more extreme. I also see Jain’s four criticisms to be more negative than positive. They’re almost like warning signs conveying the dangers of social media on relationships, which is why I see the film to fit-in very accurately with her criticisms. However, if we were to recreate the documentary in different form using Baym‘s five proposed qualities of communities, 1. Sense of space, 2. Shared practice, 3. Shared Resources & Support, 4. Shared Identities, 5. Interpersonal Relationships, from her book, Personal Connections In The Digital Age, I’d see the film to be something more informatively positive because of the way Baym proposed her five points to be more factual than critical. The three different relationships in film may easily transform into something more “interesting” and “unique” rather than creepy and eerie. The first two qualities Baym outlined, may be displayed by the three people explaining the culture and basic rules of Second Life. The shared resources and support may be displayed by the positive ways Second Life has helped them, e.g.  Asri’s increased financial income, Amy finding “love”, etc. With shared identities and interpersonal relationships, the film may present the different interactions and relationships formed with others through the game without showing the downfall from the problems created by the game. If the film was done in such a way, the appearance of Second Life might become more positively appealing to the audience because of the more informative and less negative way the stories are expressed by. Social media can indeed be very powerful, shaping stories to what it wants its audiences to see. Thus, seeing is not always believing.

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1 Comment

  1. I found point three of the article to be very humorous although the actual content is very serious. They statistically measured how loneliness within social networks can actually affect your online friends. “Cacioppo’s findings suggest that if a direct connection of yours is lonely, you are 52% more likely to be lonely. If the connection is a friend of a friend, 25% more lonely. If the connection is 3 degrees out (a friend of a friend of a friend), it’s 15%.” It spreads to other people even if they are not friends within your network. Further reading of John Cacioppo’s article claims that we can actually pick up these negative habits through social networking. He says that both lonely and nonlonely people crave friends who are “nonlonely”. However, the research focused on people of an average age of 64 years. Still, I find this to be a little scary that we can be so strongly influenced by lonely users of networking sites. If we read a negative status on Facebook, we too may feel a little down. Their status would impact us for the day and we may write a sad status as well. We are compelled to help this individual into the public community.

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