It’s all doom and gloom, apparently. News outlets, psychology scholarly web articles, and personal bloggers alike are framing social media sites as the culprit to the decline of interpersonal relationships. An article that ran in The Chicago Tribune, appropriately titled “Social media ties, technology addiction can strain interpersonal relationships” talks about the oh-too-familiar sentiment that web life is threatening to real life in a dangerous way. The article chronicles the journey of several self-proclaimed web addicts as they try to get off the internet and mend their real-life affairs. The “digital diet,” which includes limiting oneself to x amount of minutes each day (if not eradicating altogether) of time spent on the web, is what most people feel is the only solution to their problems.
“ ‘I’m doing better than I once was,” Salkover said. “At some point, you realize how valuable your time is.’ “
While the Tribune piece recognizes some people have made efforts to incorporate social media in their lives in a “healthy” manner, to offer checking out of social media altogether is a little (and ironically) unrealistic. During this golden age of social media, our social activities online bleed into our offline life and vice versa. What is deemed “real” continually gets blurred the more time we spend socializing online. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Nancy K. Baym in her novel “Personal Connections In The Digital Age,” argues that building relationships and cultivating real-life experiences online is only natural in the realm of social media sites. “The internet has brought to all of its users the possibility of forming relationships that transcend space,” writes Baym. “As shared location has lost its status as a prerequisite for first meeting, the range of potential relational partners has been expanded to a broader pool than at any point in history. Most often, relationships emerge naturally out of the online communities and networks..” As we instinctually form relationships in real life, Baym almost insists that we cannot help but to cultivate and build relationships in online life. Perhaps time spent forming online interpersonal relationships might “strain” (as the Tribune writer put it) our offline interpersonal relationships, but is relinquishing our natural inkling to build relationships the answer? Perhaps it shouldn’t be about preventing online relationships, but better managing those relationships.
How the Tribune has chosen to present this story is not much different than how we frame social media in our minds. When you begin to realize its implications on your life (not getting work done, not getting enough sleep, why did I just spend the last 3 hours of my life watching YouTube clips of kittens falling off of window ledges), we immediately think to cut back or to disengage in social media. I think at that pivotal point we should be changing habits and finding ways that social media can be productive and/or helpful to our real lives.
We may frown and/or shake our heads at Asri Falcone, our Second Life diva entrepreneur extraordinare, and the amount of time she has devoted to her online persona, the OWN documentary Life 2.0 presented it differently.
Although her lifestyle is unconventional, Mrs. Falcone seemed to have made this virtual game/virtual reality work for her. She has allocated a schedule to her online engagement, turned over (somewhat) of a profit, and even made a few real-life friends in the process.
While we can’t say the result of Second Life were as, um, rewarding for the other characters in Life 2.0, Falcone’s testament proves online interpersonal relationships may be just as genuine as her online-turned-real interpersonal relationships. And we can’t help but to imagine what she could accomplish if she had put all that energy and savviness in her online empire to her real life..