7 ways social media is destroying relationships

1. Provide a false sense of closeness

The whole concept behind online “social networking” is to be connected with everyone, everywhere, all the time. There is nothing wrong with this concept; provides a cheap and easy way to keep in touch with distant relatives or friends who have moved. I like to keep up with what my military colleagues in Germany or Japan are doing through status updates. But should social media take precedence as the default method of keeping in touch? Before MySpace, Facebook, and Google+, it meant more when people stayed in touch. Phone calls, personal letters, emails, announcements of special events like weddings or graduations.

All of these differ from today’s status update by one simple factor: they had a purpose. If someone called you on the phone to ask how you were doing, he showed that they cared enough to think of you specifically, pick up the phone, and have a polite conversation.

2. Replacement of face-to-face communication

A status update is not directive. It’s just a thought, a jot down from someone’s day, dumped onto the Internet with no direction or intention. And any answer is, well… just that. A meaningless comment about a meaningless trifle. In perhaps the most absurd possible example of this, my neighbor once complained that he could never talk to me posting in a status again. My neighbor… who could walk up to my front door and talk to me in person at any time in less than thirty seconds. People just don’t try as hard to maintain friendships when they can read about people’s lives online.

But if you read a status about an event happening in someone’s life, does that tell you how their life has progressed since the last time you spoke? The overwhelmingly common mindset seems to suggest yes. People take tweets, status updates, and blog posts as a satisfying substitute for phone calls, personal letters, emails, and (god forbid) actual face-to-face communication because this phenomenon has insidiously saturated our daily lives. Perhaps it’s the same concept as considering artificial sweeteners like cane sugar. My mom often tells me that soda tastes different now than it did when she was a kid in the ’60s. Will we soon be staring into the unbelieving eyes of the next generation when we talk about calling each other on the phone?

3. Permeable advertising… for everything imaginable

If you’ve watched TV or surfed the Internet in the last five years, chances are you’ve noticed that the unbridled, unstoppable force that is the advertising business has become more pervasive than ever. Advertising is a legitimate business and a necessary sales strategy, as well as a great way to earn income if you have a way to generate content that you can advertise on. But especially on the Internet, ads have become maddeningly ubiquitous. I miss the days when you could access a web page without things flying across the screen or listening to obnoxiously loud videos that put the late Billy Mays to shame.

I also miss being able to see a commercial (now there’s a bunch of words I never thought I’d put together) that doesn’t ask you to like a Facebook page. Companies now offer discounts, rewards, coupons, special offers, and a host of other perks in exchange for getting noticed on their social media pages. They do this because the number of Facebook users is staggering and because drawing attention to something tends to attract more attention, and more attention, and so on. If you haven’t figured this out yet, wait until the end of a commercial, when a major company shows off its name or logo. Most of the time, somewhere in that image, there is a Facebook URL. Why is this necessary when probably every corporation in the developed world has their own website? Because it is yet another way of exercising its presence in the daily lives of its consumers.

4. Parenting Narcissism

A few days ago, I participated in an online discussion about the negative side of Facebook for many of its users. My exact description is not one you would normally use in more formal writing, but I would say “a large cesspool of [attention seeking]socially deficient underage narcissists who think likes and comments are the holy grail of measuring self-esteem” is a pretty accurate description, albeit an exaggeration. Someone else responded with the argument that the same assessment could be made of any medium audience it facilitates. You made a good point, but self-expression in the form of art, music, writing, and speech is (or at least should be) intended primarily for the benefit of the audience, instead of the creator’s ego. And I would hardly call it expressive to post a scantily clad photo of yourself with the caption, “Ugh, I’m so fat.” This issue is more common among younger audiences and can be easily circumvented by removing these offenders from viewing. But the trend still speaks to a latent psychological bias towards self-degrading behavior. And while Facebook may have become the poster child for the problem, it exists online in many guises, even spawning an opposite problem: cyberbullying.

5. Spreading those baby photos too much

It’s always been a custom for new parents to want to share everything their wrinkly little monstrosity does. They show photos of Junior feeding, bathing, walking, playing with the dog. And in previous years, they were mainly restricted to showing them to people who really cared. In addition to the obvious concerns associated with sharing personal photos online, parents often take things too far when posting baby photos.

Those are captured moments meant for family and close friends, not the girl who lived down the hall from you sophomore year in college or the friend’s co-worker from last summer’s barbecue. I was even recently invited to a baby shower via Facebook, by an acquaintance from high school. And he’s still in high school. Even among teenagers, who would have been scorned for their irresponsibility in decades past, it has become common practice to post ultrasound scans, baby photos, and related events on Facebook as a way of announcing the child’s life to family and friends, and the rest of the world for people who don’t spend enough time reviewing their privacy settings. Some people just don’t seem to know when they’re sharing too much, or don’t consider who they’re sharing it with.

6. Make bullying socially acceptable

It’s usually a good idea to get to know someone before you get into a relationship, but it can easily be taken too far. “Facebook bullying” has become such a common activity that it was featured as the main plotline in an episode of the popular sitcom. how i met your mother. Much of the issue revolves around scanning a victim’s photo albums for visual stimulation, if he can call someone who willingly posts such things in full view of the world a victim. But beyond the obviously creepy aspects of admiring vacation photos of a girl in a bikini, there’s something extremely disconcerting about gathering information about a person on the Internet, rather than through conversation.

What is there to talk about on a first date when the other person has already learned all about you from your Facebook page? Or worse yet, how do you react when they tackle something they don’t like that they only learned from the internet? In the episode of how i met your mother, the main character (and the biggest romantic failure in history) Ted Mosby meets a woman and asks her out, promising to avoid knowing anything about her beforehand on the Internet. He shows up in the middle of the night, does surprisingly well on the date, before giving in to temptation. His entire demeanor completely changes after learning of his dramatically too impressive life achievements through a simple Google search. Here’s some advice if you’re trying to have a meaningful, long-term relationship: don’t do anything Ted does. Ever.

7. Devalue the concept of friendship

What does it mean to be friends? In my book, it means having an open, trusting, platonic relationship with someone you would never hesitate to lend a hand to when needed. Just as an experiment, go through your Facebook friends list and see how many people on it are actually friends by that definition. I’ve had people add me on Facebook that I’ve only met once…or never met at all. I have old classmates, people I met before I moved, friends of friends I met at social events. And mixed in with all of these are the few people I would consider true friends.

They don’t deserve that. These are people I’ve grown up with, helped through tough decisions, shared intimate secrets with. And they just show up on a list with a hundred other random acquaintances like they mean nothing more to me than a young high school student I helped with homework when I was a teacher’s assistant. Friendships can sometimes be formed online, allowing you to meet and interact with people you might not otherwise be able to. Some of my closest friends are people I met playing video games online. There are always different levels of friendship, but true friends should be respected rather than reduced to another meaningless status update on a news feed.

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