The world is shrinking – we’ve all heard about it. The internet has opened doors (and windows . . . heh heh . .. see what I did there? Windows!!) into places that were formerly closed. A man’s phone was stolen and was later sold in China. The new owner posted photos that appeared in the original owner’s cloud storage and before long via social media the two became friends. The American became a pseudo celebrity in China, and they both appeared on Ellen (click the link for more on the Brother Orange story).
Back in the ’90s when I was pregnant with my first child I joined a (now defunct) message board on the iVillage media site, as I’d heard it was a great resource of information and a way to connect with other moms who were expecting at the same time. The first board I joined was Dec/98 mommies mostly women from across the US and a handful from Canada. At that time I didn’t have my own computer at home so when I actually had my son I was absent from the discussion board for the 6 months I was on maternity leave. When I returned to work the board was still active but I felt in the minority as a working mother, the majority of active users were stay at home moms.
I turned to another board – the Working moms board – and eventually become the moderator. Our core group of women, again mostly from the US and a few from Canada became very close friends despite the fact that most of us had never met In Real Life (IRL). We decided to hold a reunion in 2003 after being online together for at least 5 years and we spent a fun-filled weekend in Philadelphia putting faces to names (at that time the board messages were mostly text – no pictures) and making new memories. We even made efforts to post updates of the trip on the board for those who weren’t able to make it.
Once Facebook appeared on the scene a group of us who had been together for well over 10 years migrated to a closed group on that platform, where we’ve been ever since. There are 31 of us in this group and we’ve been together for over 16 years of births, deaths, marriage, divorce and everything in between. Where at first we were celebrating milestones like being able to leave the kids at daycare without hearing them cry when we left, now we’re the ones crying when these same kids head off to college after graduation. I count these women among my closest friends and I’ve only met some of them. Thanks to Facebook I can see my friends’ public profiles but we can also interact on our private board. (and yes – we are all web-savvy enough to know the risks of posting anything online and we know that nothing is *truly* private).
Nowadays I’ve joined other groups on Facebook based on interest. Military spouse pages for to learn about a new posting, or community groups such as those managed by my sons’ cadet corps that enables me to keep up with corps news. These groups are not based on the creation of friendship but rather on information sharing. There are countless other ways to connect with groups online – not just through Facebook. Pinterest allows you to follow people based on the items they pin – meaning you can easily find people whose interests match your own.
Now that my children are old enough to have social media accounts we have had discussions about what is appropriate and who they can have as friends (They are only allowed to “friend” the people they actually know and if approached to play with a stranger over xbox they are forbidden to share personal details). This puts them in the minority – The children of today have grown up with the internet and with cellphones. The typical teen has more friends on Facebook that they’ve never met than those they know IRL. Rather than measuring their perceived success or failure against their local peers, they are putting themselves up for judgement publicly against a world of individuals and the results can be devastating. Teens are measuring their self-worth against the number of “likes” they get on a picture and often they are finding themselves wanting. In addition constant digital interactions either through social media or text have lead to a decrease in actual intimacy and a decline in personal relationships. Teens feel distanced from any communication that isn’t face to face so they have a greater likelihood of saying things they wouldn’t normally say, which can lead to increased instances of bullying and or social stigma. (for some great articles on this see the CBC article from February, 2014 and this Psychology Today from the point of view of the teens)
What are your thoughts? Do you think social media has changed the way we have developed our social relationships? Do you think this is a good or a bad thing? Do you regularly participate in any online communities and if so, would you call those people your friends? I look forward to your comments.