Technology is the way people are choosing to keep up relationally and social media plays a major role. Channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter offer the unique opportunity to eavesdrop on each other’s lives without putting in any effort to communicate. Real communication involving eye contact, transparent dialogue, and bearing one another’s burdens really can’t happen by liking a profile picture or taking two seconds to say “Amen” to a prayer post. What happens when we let the extent of our communication and relationship building with others be confined only to 140 characters?
In an interview with Time magazine, author of Unfriending My Ex and Other Things I’ll Never Do Kim Stolz says, “I think the rise of social media is definitely correlated with the rise of narcissism in our society. Our self-esteem depends on how many likes we get, how many followers we get, or if someone texts us back.” Stolz was a former contestant on America’s Next Top Model and says her generation is obsessed with themselves, “It really is all about narcissism. Some coworkers and I were talking about how when we FaceTime, we just end up looking at ourselves in that little box.” In a “me” obsessed culture real communication becomes diluted by the constant flooding of selfishness. Stolz says we’ve become addicted to the pseudo-connections experienced in digitally mediated communication, “…When you see your phone light up from across the room, it’s that ping of dopamine in your system. You get that euphoric, excited feeling, and I think that’s addictive.”
Her claim is no so farfetched as a study by the University of Chicago suggests Facebook could be more addictive than cigarettes. Harmful effects include grave dependency leading to withdrawal from healthy connections with the real world and close relationships. The Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking also discovered that excessive Facebook users (i.e. checking more than hourly) are more likely to experience relational conflict. Outcomes include: emotional and physical infidelity leading to divorce.
So what’s the solution because obviously social media is here to stay…but how can we use these tools to build our relationships for the better? We have to start replacing “pseudo connections,” or relational quick fixes that take no emotional time and effort, with true authentic relationship building behavior. This means doing more of: showing affection and appreciation, seeking forgiveness, serving others in humility, eye contact and really paying attention to get to know what makes people unique. Authentic connections, coupled and properly balanced with technology could help strengthen our relationships. Technology is an integral part of our lives now: people text friends and spouses to make dinner plans, parents stay close with children away at college through social media and grandparents keep up with grandchildren’s milestones via Skype and ooVoo. While we won’t be able to completely do away with social media, stewarded properly it can help us enhance more meaningful contact with those we love.