Oftentimes we hear people saying how bad the internet is for our social lives. The older generation is especially dedicated to reminding us how much more social people were ‘back in the good ol’ days’. Which got me thinking; is the internet making us less social?
When it comes to building relationships, it doesn’t have to necessarily be romantic or family relationships. I’m also considering relationships such as those between students and recruiters, those within professional circles, and even casual social relationships with people from clubs and groups you’re in.
The research found that contrary to what most people think, the internet doesn’t make us nearly as antisocial as we think it does. It was found to actually enhance relationships and give them more meaning and this makes sense! Think about it; if you can’t talk to your friends and family or don’t follow them on social media, for example, you wouldn’t be able to keep up with their life updates. People usually post about important events in their lives so their friends can comment and congratulate them. Also, it’s so easy now to stay in touch with family. A skype call can give you all the latest updates about their life and what they’ve been up to which does make people a lot more bonded and closer together.
Time builds relationships between people so the more time you spend interacting with them on social media, talking to them in your free time, and even just texting them funny videos is your building and nurturing a relationship between you and that person.
Diving deeper into how the internet actually does this, there are 4 main roles that social media and technology take in our social interactions: enabling, facilitating, inviting, and encouraging.
The first role is enabling. Enabling refers to how the internet makes it possible and allows people to interact with each other and socialize. It’s when you take out your phone and have the possibility to interact with anyone. It would be a primary interaction such as calling or texting them. Or a secondary interaction such as commenting on their post or liking their picture.
The second role is facilitating. Facilitating is making it easy for social interactions to occur between people. This is different than enabling in a sense that enabling just gives you the tools to allow you access to your loved ones while facilitating makes it actually easier to have those interactions. Facilitating happens when you have access to such apps like Instagram and Whatsapp that make it really easy and straightforward to contact others.
The third role is inviting which refers to informing people of the possible social interactions between people online. The internet plays this role by providing external motivators. This can be seen for example in Instagram which has an explore page that constantly introduces you to new content. It’s also very aggressively demonstrated on TikTok which has blown up online in the past few months (maybe because of quarantine). TikTok has such a smart algorithm that it keeps you hooked by producing new and exciting content for you by studying what you already liked. TikTok is different from Instagram since on Instagram’s home page it’s mostly people you follow and you have to actively go to the explore tab to be able to find new content while TikTok’s main home page IS the explore tab.
The last role is encouraging which takes place when the internet gives incentives and pushes people to start interacting or maintaining ongoing interactions. An example of encouragement from the internet would be for example how TikTok once again sends notifications about the different videos they have on their platform to push you to watch the videos.
Now, these 4 roles are just theories so this is all just theorizing.
The internet’s role is not the only reason why our relationships were enhanced by social media. Another factor is our personality, more specifically our attachment styles which are reflected in how we treat our partners.
You might be wondering how will my actions towards my partner affect my relationships on social media? Let's see.
The difference in attachment styles is dependent on two factors: avoidance and anxiety.
Avoidance is when you stay away from something or try not to do it. Having a high avoidance means that that person is bound to basically avoid confrontation or dealing with their problems.
Anxiety is the feeling of worry and nervousness. When it comes to attachment styles, anxiety is when you’re worried and nervous about your partner. Nervous about what they think of you, how they feel about you if they’ll leave you, etc.
There are 4 different types of attachment styles: secure, preoccupied, dismissing avoidance, fearful-avoidant. Each attachment style affects your relationship with social media by how you choose to react in a situation. If for example, someone has high avoidance and low anxiety, then social media will just bring that out in them. They will trust those around them and be comfortable with their relationships with them however if they see something off they will most likely not confront anyone.
Social media can affect each kind of attachment style differently. If someone is high on anxiety, they’re more likely to feel anxious with the use of social media and be negatively affected by it thinking the people around them will find someone better, smarter, prettier, etc.
The ideal kind of attachment style is secure since it’s low on both anxiety and avoidance meaning that it’s someone who is secure with their relationships and comfortable with talking about difficult or awkward topics. This kind of attachment style thrives on social media use since it keeps people connected and together since they have nothing to worry about.
When it comes to internet use, the numbers are quite astonishing. The average internet user spends more than 16 hours per month online on a global scale (this is just the average, the actual numbers depend on the region). The greatest online use is social networking on sites like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc. This is followed by internet searches, reading content, communicating on email, visiting multimedia sites, and online shopping.
It was found that in 2019, 2.23 hrs per day are spent on social media use only. The global average time spent on social networking has grown throughout the years.
Social media, at the end of the day, is what you make of it. If you want to view it as an addictive black hole that is meant to destroy lives and hurt people then that’s what it will be. But if you choose to view it as a tool and utilize it in a positive light then I think you’re bound to have a much brighter and more positive perspective on social media and technology in general.
- Next: What Is the Internet Doing to Relationships?