This just in: Interpersonal Web Life–hide your kids, hide your wife

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..

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4 Comments

  1. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  February 22, 2012

    why did you not link to the youtube videos of kittens??? maybe it’s better for all of us that you didn’t though…

    Reply
  2. christinechoucair

     /  February 23, 2012

    As I also found in my research, it feels like discourse is having a hard time combining the two worlds – the physical and the virtual. Therefore, it results in stories like Life 2.0 where the characters are seemingly alienated from what the viewers perceive as “normal” everyday activity. Why does Life 2.0 want us to laugh and judge? Why are we fighting the virtual world, when we ourselves are its designers?

    I loved how you mentioned that we have a natural instinct to build relationships because I think that is at the core of humanity and the main reason we are all online. If we didn’t have the web, I think we would manifest our desire for connection elsewhere. It seems like articles about interpersonal online relationships are ignorant to the fact that these social media sites aren’t going anywhere. They are here to stay and in fact, multiply. It’s time, as you said, to change our habits.

    Reply
  3. Amanda Au

     /  February 24, 2012

    Thanks for bringing up this article because I think technology addiction is a very serious problem that many people view as a joke. A lot of these times, technology addiction stems from the fact that people are forced to interact with technology because of school or work, not because of a hobby/interest. Take the first woman in the article who is a social media manager. Being a social media manager myself, I know it’s very hard to remove yourself from technology, which can lead to a very unhealthy addiction.
    When I was first starting my position as social media manager, I had an extremely difficult time balancing work with my daily life. Because I had to constantly work through my daily life rather than having a designated 9-5 work period, my attention was always divided and I’m always constantly being interrupted in the midst of things (Just while I was writing this blog post, I was interrupted by 15 Twitter mentions, 1 phone call, and 3 emails). After speak to our senior social media manager and asking him how he dealt with this constant distraction, I learned how to manage technology to prevent me from having a complete meltdown. This might be the price I had to pay for choosing social media as a profession, but judging by how rapidly technology has expanded to almost all industries in the last decade, I’m confident that at a certain point, everyone will encounter this issue of being forced to face technology for their profession, which is why it is so important for people how to learn to effectively manage their relationship with technology, something you and the article point out.

    Reply

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