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The Impact of Social Media

When Myspace became popular back in 2003, most users were in middle school, high school, and college. Twitter also started to become popular, however, most users were between the ages of 16-21 for both of these social media sites. According to the article from Forbes Magazine by Adam Hartung, Myspace “was undoubtedly not only an early internet success – but a seminal web site for the movement we now call social media.”

Unfortunately, this movement did not last long for Myspace when Facebook launched in 2004. Facebook was only open to college undergrads when it launched but it wasn’t long until high school students began using it. Nine years later, our parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents are on Facebook. Businesses and corporations are using Facebook to reach clients and news stations are using Facebook to keep us updated on current events. Twitter has also grown in popularity along with Facebook. It is common to see television shows include hashtags in the bottom corner of the television screen that link to Twitter, and even reminders to ‘like’ a business or news station on Facebook during commercials. This just goes to show how much social media has grown in the past few years. When Myspace launched in 2003, only the younger generation was using it. Since Facebook has been launched and grown in the past 9 years, ages 16-70 are using the social media website. Not only that, but businesses are using social media to expand and reach their clients. This is proof that social media has truly impacted many people of different ages and generations and is not only targeted towards a specific age group anymore.

Various Internet Types

Along with the expansion in technology and internet-usage with social media, different types of internet users have evolved to create various user types. Meyen, Pfaff-Rudiger, Dudenhoffer, and Huss discussed in their article the different types of users and how many of these types concern specific age ranges, daily routines, career-status, and social-status.

The first two types of internet users are “The Cautious” and “The Professionals”. The Cautious tend to range from 30-70 years of age. This type of user refers to the internet to search recipes, check the validity of a fact on Google, search Wikipedia, or take care of online shopping because of convenience purposes. These users typically not aware of social media and certainly do not have a Facebook of their own. An example of this typology would be a housewife, retired spouse, or someone who just never gained interest in social media.

The other type, The Professionals, are 30-40 years of age who only use the internet while they are working. These users are specifically upper-middle class types who claim to not be able to get any of their work done without the internet. These users may have Facebook or Twitter for their careers specifically and do not use social media for personal reasons whatsoever.

These two types of internet users I have classified as interpersonal interaction-types. These users do not use the internet to meet new people or to connect with current friends or family, as they don’t rely on the internet for anything other than professional or working-around-the-house needs. It may be assumed that the older generation does not use social media for personal reasons or for online dating, but this is not true as you will see after I address the other two user types.

I have grouped together “The Addicts” and “The Companions” because they both rely on the internet to meet new people and find relationships. The Addicts cannot imagine a life without the internet in their daily routine. Much of their days are spent online, whether it be managing their online profile, searching for potential companions, updating their Twitter status, or posting photos from their lives. The purpose of the internet for The Addicts is to “meet new people online and satisfy their emotional needs while diverting attention away from their personal life and deeper thoughts” (Meyen, Pfaff-Rudiger, Dudenhoffer, Huss). The age range for The Addicts is age 17-30; mostly college students or single people with part-time jobs. The Companions are similar in this aspect of wanting to meet new people on the internet, except for they resort to online dating services rather than Facebook or Twitter. Most Companions are widely ranged 16-50 years of age and spend most of their time meeting people online and traveling the long distance to meet their companions in person after talking online for months, or years at times.

The Addicts and Companions are two types of users that I would like to address in this paper, as they are the main inspiration for my topic. These types of people have grown in population drastically over the past few years as social media has expanded and keeps gaining popularity in the dating scene. There are many reasons for this, and from my research I have found that online dating is not only faster when it comes to meeting new people, but it is also more convenient; and who doesn’t like convenience? But what is more convenient is not always the best choice.

The Role of Social Media on Personal Relationships

Before I can get into the benefits of online interactions versus interpersonal interactions, it is significant to point out the role of social media within personal relationships. A professor studying nonverbal communication, Mark L. Knapp, distinguishes the stages of relationship development as follows: initiating, experimenting, intensifying, integrating, and bonding. These stages, according to Knapp, must occur in a step-by-step process for the development of a relationship to be a success. Our parents and their parents experienced these relationship development stages in the conventional, personable way. These stages still occur today, except for most of the beginning steps are experienced through social media outlets such as Facebook or Instagram. Instagram is much like Twitter, except users post photos to document their lives instead of 140-character statuses. Instagram is a recent development when it comes to the initiation of personal relationships, but it still applies.

How exactly do Facebook and Instagram dictate our personal relationships and the status of such? Our generation first experienced this phenomenon when Facebook was founded in 2004 and the option to display “single” or “in a relationship” on your personal profile was created. You could even tell the world who you are in a relationship with, assuming they also have a Facebook profile and approve the relationship status. This not only eliminates the hassle in finding out if that boy or girl that you like in your English class is romantically involved, but it also has created a new level of commitment in relationships when the couple becomes ‘Facebook Official’ or FBO. Facebook official is when a couple changes their relationship status to ‘In a Relationship’ on their Facebook profiles. The other person involved in the relationship has to approve of the change for it to show they are in a relationship specifically with the other person, including the name and the link to the Facebook profile of their significant other. It has been nine years since FBO has been created and most, if not all, college students consider the relationship official when it is displayed on Facebook. Instagram is also an example of how people portray their personal relationships. When two people are dating, you will find that they are not only FBO, but they will also include their partners name in their Instagram profile. People like to express themselves and display their personal brand for those who care to notice, and social media allows each individual to stand out and express who they are to their friends, families, and even strangers.

However, I am starting to notice a drastic change in the way people begin personal relationships with others as opposed to how our parents and our grandparents began their romantic relationships. There are still the usual stages of the relationship; initiating, experimenting, intensifying, integrating, and bonding, but the beginning stages are occurring online instead of in person. For example, the initiating and experimenting stage may occur through Facebook when someone is interested in another person and will send out signals by either “liking” statuses or photos. “… Facebook empowers the pursuer to a certain degree during the initiating and experimenting phases (Knapp, 1978), allowing him or her to save face by using the medium to initiate or pursue a relationship with a target.” (Fox, Warber, Makstaller). Therefore, instead of having to initiate conversation in person by formally introducing yourself, users find comfort in initiating the first steps of contact by friending the person on Facebook, messaging them to begin conversation, and show their interest by ‘liking’ pictures of the person. The ‘liking’ of someone’s pictures could also be tied to Instagram where most of the pictures people post are of themselves and if you were to ‘like’ the picture by simply double-tapping the iPhone screen, that signifies your initiation or interest with that person. These new ways of initiating and experimenting with a potential companion have grown more popular in our generation today.

Benefits of Meeting Online and Meeting Face-to-Face

In a world where convenience and effectiveness tend to overrule all methods, it is no wonder that people rely on social media as a means for meeting new people and searching for potential lovers. I recently posted a Facebook status about this topic and received some mixed opinions about which was more beneficial, and although I believe that meeting your romantic partner in person is the most desired, there are plenty of people out there who disagree. Those who disagreed stated that it was the new generation of dating and it makes it much easier for those who are introverted to meet new people. The benefits also include meeting more people online then you could meet in person, and allow you the chance to market yourself as you wish while building a strong emotional connection that is not solely based on physical characteristics. When you connect with someone online, they make their judgements based off of common interests between online profiles, and not based off of face value.

Regardless of how outgoing or reserved you are as a person, the first time you meet someone or go out on that first date is incredibly nerve racking. When you are meeting someone for the first time who has caught your interest, it involves the first two stages of relationship development; initiation and experimentation. Initiating the conversation and experimenting by discussing topics in order to discover whether or not this partner is the right fit for you can be mostly anxiety-driven. This is where social media websites like Facebook and Instagram come in, according to the article, The role of Facebook in romantic relationship development: An exploration of Knapp’s Relational Stage Model, the first two steps of relationship development are made easy. “Another reason that participants appreciated Facebook during these stages is that it gives users an opportunity to get to know someone at their own pace without the pressure of having to make an immediate favorable impression.” (p. 9) It really is an easy outlet for those who are shy to connect with others that they may be interested in, but this also tends to make the experience less exciting; especially in the beginning stages. The article also concludes after the research that “Not everyone agreed that Facebook was healthy for the beginning stages of a relationship, however. Leah articulated that, ‘On a relationship end, it kind of hurts it. It provides too much information too soon in a relationship and then it also just—it makes everything too instant and you know everything about them.’” (16). What most people don’t get is that the beginning stages of a relationship is supposed to be nerve-racking and scary; this is also what makes it fun!

So although Facebook tends to make it easier for two people to go through the first two stages more comfortably, I believe that it hinders the initiating and experimenting stages as they were meant to be done physically in person. From the early stages of AOL Instant Messenger to the outbreak of text messaging, conversations have been shifting from face-to-face to textual format. Ori Schwarz explains in his article that instant messaging objectifies conversations. With texting and instant messaging, there are no emotional or nonverbal cues; the text message is lacks emotion. Then there is the question of whether or not your partner is showing emotion in a text, and one can even question which emotion your partner is actually showing. Without the nonverbal communication, it is hard to tell how your partner is responding to you and vice-versa. Also, you can’t know what it will be like when you two spend time together until you are physically together. Yes, you can get along perfect when texting back and forth all day, but you will only know how about their mannerisms and the nuances of their speech when you are with them in person. “Facebook’s role is that it has altered the way by which college-aged students proceed through the initiating, experimenting, and intensifying phases of relationships (Knapp, 1978) and learn about potential and current partners: in many cases, one can privately seek out information on Facebook without having to interact with a target or a common friend.” (Fox, Warber, Makstaller). It is just simply more effective and the connection more deep when you meet in person. Sure, there is the development of physical attraction, but you also have the persons body language, physical reactions, and other nonverbal cues that you wouldn’t receive right away when communicating via social network.

I do agree that after meeting someone in person that you may or may not be interested in and after you have went through the initiation stage, it is beneficial to use social media at this point to navigate or “creep” and see if you are interested in moving onto the next few stages of relationship development with this person. These judgements can be based off of their relationship status (if you had not asked them already), pictures, statuses, or however they choose to display themselves on the internet. This could save you a lot of time when trying to get to know about another person’s qualities but you could also figure out who they are when you spend time with them in person and get the full idea of the person all at once.

What we can really conclude here is that Facebook and Instagram, most recently, have created this new way of going about the relationship stages of development. “Rather than serving as merely a box checked in an online environment, this status is a new milestone for couples in the integrating phase (Knapp, 1978).” (p. 17) Facebook has young couples going through these relationship development stages at a rapid pace, and with no time to catch up or realize the consequences of rushing through the process that is supposed to be thoroughly enjoyed. Although it is common for couples to become FBO and post statuses about their significant other describing their love for them, it is not natural and it even tends to create problems and drama within relationships because of the pressures of social networked relationships.

How Technology Creates Problems in Personal Relationships

Before I had mentioned the way couples tend to classify their commitment to a relationship by becoming Facebook official or FBO. However, not all couples display their relationship status online, and if one person in the party isn’t agreeing to become Facebook official, this presents problems and drama. Or there are points where the guy will ‘like’ another girl’s photo on Facebook and his current girlfriend will get jealous and this could lead to an argument. This could also happen on Instagram where a guy or girl will follow or ‘like’ a photo of the opposite sex while in a relationship and will create jealousy and strain in the relationship. Not surprisingly enough, women are more prone to issues with Facebook while in relationships.“Keeping up with one’s female partner through comments, wall posts, and replies was also a problem for some men; in general, men claimed their female partners were heavier users and thus created pressure for reciprocity in Facebook-based interaction.” (Fox, Warber, Makstaller). For example, if a girlfriend were to write on their boyfriend’s wall or comment on a status saying “I love you” and not receive a response from their boyfriend, this could create an argument in the relationship.

According to an ABC news article released in May 2012, 1/3 of divorce filings contained the word “Facebook” in 2011. Couples are allowing Facebook to shatter the uncertainty that conventional ways of dating sometimes create by having that “Facebook official” option in order to make everything official and known among both partners and all their friends and family. After that, the relationship is defined by the behavior by the two people on social networks. Some examples of this are including your boyfriend or girlfriend’s name in your Instagram profile. If you don’t include your significant others’ name in your profile, you should at least put that you are taken. Also, after becoming Facebook official, it is expected of the significant other to change their profile picture to one of them with their boyfriend or girlfriend  instead of a picture with their friends. Although this may all seem ridiculous and extremely nit-picky, these judgements happen everyday online. Couples argue with their partners about social media more often now than before, and with increasing social media outlets, it only creates more problems in relationships. “In previous generations, such widespread notification would not have occurred unless a public engagement announcement was made in a local newspaper or wedding invitations were distributed.” (p. 19). It is true that when our parents or grandparents became official it was all handled very different than it is today. However, we are in a new generation of social media and it just keeps expanding and affecting how we maintain romantic relationships.

Facebook and Instagram are not the only causes of relationship problems in the digital age. Everywhere you look now you see iPhones; whether someone is texting, listening to music, looking up directions while driving, taking a picture for Snapchat, or talking on the phone–which hardly happens anymore–iPhone’s are everywhere. It has even been said that people are so attached to their iPhone that there is an emotional love connection between the two, and I know I have a mini-heart attack when I drop my iPhone to the ground. This is simply because our iPhones are able to carry out many tasks for us that make our lives much easier such as remind us of daily tasks, direct us to any location we desire, connect with people all over the world, and they contain billions of apps that have many uses right at our disposal. They are truly magnificent devices but also tend to be affecting face-to-face interaction.

Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein discuss in their article how mobile devices such as our wonderful iPhones tend to hinder social interaction and hurt our personal relationships. In this article, an experiment was done where two groups of people in their early 20’s were present both with a phone and without a phone. Participants were placed in a single room where they were told to have an intimate conversation with the question stated “Discuss an interesting event that occurred to you over the past month.” Two groups of two people were told to discuss this question; one group with a phone present and one with a phone absent. Another experiment was done where another two groups of two people were placed in a single room and had the choice to discuss what they pleased both with and without a mobile phone present.

What had resulted was distrust and the interference of human relationship formation with the presence of a mobile phone in the room. “Evidence derived from both experiments indicates the mere presence of mobile phones inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust, and reduced the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.” (p. 9). Since a mobile phone was present, it tends to stop meaningful conversations from happening, and when a meaningful conversation is in the midst, the responses are less focused and heartfelt. Thus, decreasing trust and closeness between two people. When the phone was absent, the two people were able to not only maintain a meaningful conversation, but were also able to begin more intimate conversations and develop a trustworthy friendship in such a short time. What tends to be a scary yet interesting fact about this experiment is that the lack of human relationship development in the presence of a mobile phone is mostly subconscious, in other words, people do not realize that they are inhibiting their personal relationships from growing more intimate. There have been plenty of scenarios where I am in a group of people who at one point are all on their phones texting, on Facebook, etc. Or there will be points where I am talking to a friend and they will shift their attention to their phone when they get a text message; needless to say I feel disrespected and without their full attention. This is why teachers ban the use of mobile phones in their classroom; we are aware that they prevent closeness and interaction.

That being said, how should we expect to build intimate and meaningful relationships with all of this technology in the way? Even romantic partners who have already developed a sense of intimacy are slowly losing the closeness because of mobile devices and are even arguing more because of social networks. Relationship counselors have been reported telling their couples to just shut off the technology for just one hour and spend five minutes staring directly into the eyes of their partner; this has been said to increase closeness and affection between couples.The article presented the experiment that even proved that a person doesn’t need to be using social media or their mobile device for the relationship to stray from intimacy. A phone could be sitting on a bar between two people grabbing a drink and even then it inhibits conversation without us being aware. “These results indicate that mobile communication devices such as phones may, by their mere presence, paradoxically hold the potential to facilitate as well as to disrupt human bonding and intimacy.” (p. 10).

Although it seems like the problem with mobile devices and social media has escalated quickly and too much for there to be any kind of change in our behavior, becoming aware of this issue could potentially cause us to put our phones away while interacting with a loved one or meeting someone for a first date.

Representation and Misrepresentation Online

As if social media and technology hasn’t changed society enough, people are now starting to allow technology to change them. Given the ability to create your own profile on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, it is no wonder some people have begun to present themselves differently online than how they are in real life in order to get a date. This intentional and conscious misrepresentation of online profiles began with a name change, a personality shift from shy in real life to outgoing and forward online, and has gone as far as an entire identity change from one person to another. This happens when a person is not satisfied with their current self and then creates another person (physical looks, gender, personality) online to satisfy their own wants and needs and the wants and needs of a potential love interest. Some men will even go as far to portray themselves as female models and vice versa. “Self-presentation involves strategically disclosing and/or concealing information in order to portray the self in a desirable way.” (Ellison, Hancock, Toma). This often results in complicated issues when a companion gets involved, since the companion is unaware of this person’s true self. This common misrepresentation of true self has grown to be such an issue that it has become a reality television series on MTV called Catfish where real people fall in love and maintain long distance relationships for extended periods of time with people online who are not exactly who they present themselves to be.

Men and women are different when misrepresenting themselves online and have various methods for doing so; although both genders are equally guilty of doing this. “Specifically, consistent with these predictions, men are more likely to misrepresent personal assets and women will be more likely to misrepresent their weight.” (Hall, Park, Song, Cody). Both genders are guilty of presenting themselves as younger or older depending on the person that they want to attract. This method is very dishonest and misleading which presents another issue with meeting and dating someone online. The person you are in a relationship with may not be who they present themselves to be. If you were to have just originally met the person face-to-face, there wouldn’t be any confusion or uncertainty.

Finding a Romantic Partner the Conventional Way

There are so many reasons to look forward to meeting someone naturally and in-person and even after having met them in person, there is far less confusion when avoiding technology and social media. Although social media and technology continue to expand and increase in popularity, it is important to be aware of the consequences it has to offer. Meeting someone online via social network is definitely easier and more effective since you can find out more personal information at a faster pace, and you can also get to know who they are through texting and Facebook messaging if you are shy and don’t feel comfortable speaking in person just yet. However, talking in person and getting to know someone that way is much less complicated and better for the relationship development between two people.

Scholarly Articles

1.) Schwarz, Ori. “Who moved my conversation? Instant messaging, intertextuality and new regimes of intimacy and truth.” Media Culture & Society January 2011 vol. 33 no. 1: 71-87.

2.) Meyen, Pfaff-Rüdiger, Dudenhöffer, and Huss. “The internet in everyday life: a typology of internet users.” Media Culture & Society September 2010 vol. 32 no. 5: 873-882.

3.) Ellison, Hancock, Toma. “Profile as promise: A framework for conceptualizing veracity in online dating self-presentations.” New Media & Society June 2011 vol. 14 no. 1: 45-62.

4.) Finkel, Eastwick, Karney, Reis, and Sprecher. “Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest January 2012 vol. 13 no. 1: 3-66.

5.) Przybylski, Weinstein. “Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships July 2012 vol. 30 no. 2: 1-10

6.) Fox, Warber, Makstaller. “The role of Facebook in romantic relationship development: An exploration of Knapp’s relational stage model.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships January 2013 vol. 10 no. 1: 1-24

7.) Hall, Park, Song, Cody. “Strategic misrepresentation in online dating: The effects of gender, self-monitoring, and personality traits.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships February 2010 vol. 27 no. 1: 117-135.

8.) Hartung, Adam. “How Facebook Beat Myspace.” Forbes Magazine January 2011.

Original Sources

He’s Just Not That Into You Scene:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7GgBlLxwH4

The Morning Show Online Dating Segment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKP4dIvB_fk

#Catfish Twitter Feed:

https://twitter.com/search?q=%23catfish

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