Is the bite-sized world of social media leading to bite-sized and unsubstantial personal relationships? This was a question I asked myself recently when looking at some of my own relationships -- friendship, romantic, professional, and family alike. Social media plays a role in many of those relationships these days, and what I noticed is that it isn't always for the better.
Today let's talk about how social media can inhibit the growth of deeper personal relationships with others, and then we'll take a look at the other side of the coin and how social media can play a positive role as well.
How Social Media Might Inhibit the Growth of Personal Relationships
Here's what I noticed when looking at my own relationships. Those that were heavily based in contact through social media outlets were much less substantial than those relationships where we kept in touch in person, over the phone, or via email on a regular basis. How those deeper relationships are maintained varied mostly based on physical distance.
For example, I have plenty of colleagues I consider friends. Many of them I keep in touch with solely through Twitter, social networks like LinkedIn, and blog comments. Those relationships tend to be much more casual, and we tend to know much less about each other. Once we hit the phase of emailing each other though, things change. Those relationships were much deeper than the social media based ones. We could have more private conversations. We could have longer conversations. And I found that people tended to open up much more about things unrelated to work via email than they did in social media.
The same was true with family. Those who keep in touch and work on maintaining a deeper personal connection generally turned to email, the phone, and in this case also snail mail. Those who only kept in touch via social media did so much more casually.
Sure, it's possible this is exclusive to me and my network of personal and professional connections. But for it to affect so many people and relationships in that network similarly leads me to think otherwise, although that's not to say there won't be exceptions. You see, social media makes it easy to get to the point and move on. And it makes it easy to provide so much "fluff" information that information overload results and you just don't care enough to want to know more mundane things about a person's life. So you don't reach deeper when communicating.
That might not be a bad thing on the professional side of things, but when it comes to more personal relationships I find it mildly concerning (and a good reason to make a better effort with friends and other loved ones). Do you reach out enough for the people you care about, or do you let social media suffice?
I do have to say that blogs are somewhat of an exception. They do give you a chance to get to know people better, because people can be as detailed as they want. However, that's mostly on the consumption side. Comments still are frequently brief compared to posts, limited to the scope of the post, and buried is a mass of other comments depending on the blog.
How Social Media Might Improve Personal Relationships
Now that's not to say that I think social media is killing personal relationships really. The only ones who can do that are ourselves if we slack off and stop making a decent effort just because social media is "easier." In fact, I do think social media can do positive things in helping to build relationships -- especially new ones.
Most importantly, I think social media tools have the ability to serve as a stepping stone to deeper and more personal relationships with those we want to build them with. For example, I'd known a particular freelance writing colleague for a while. And I knew she lived just a few towns over. We got to know each other mostly through blogs, but also kept in touch occasionally through Twitter. Because of that, we later met in person a couple of times. And at that point we really took the time to get to know each other better on a more personal level -- discussing family, local shops, and such rather than solely work. In that case I like to think of social media as a sort of extended introduction.
What about you? How has social media affected different types of personal relationships in your life? Does it really bring you closer just because you might stay in touch more often, or is the quantity sometimes a substitute for quality conversations in those relationships? Share your own thoughts and stories in the comments below.