by: Mansi Beniwal
More of something can be good, but too much of the same rarely is. Ever since man landed on this earth, he has unfolded new ways to quench his thirst of interaction by creating ways of communication, ranging from the primitive language to advanced technologies like the computer and the mobile phone. But has man been able to achieve his goals? Or has he done the reverse in his attempt to achieve his goal? We came up with the idea of social media for the sake of interpersonal communication, but we ended up sacrificing interpersonal communication to make space for social media.
Merriam-Webster defines social media as “forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos).” Some examples include Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and even blogs where peoples’ articles can be voted and commented upon. These websites allow the people to create their own social network, share things of interest and discuss a wide range of issues in the society.
An interpersonal relationship is a strong, deep, or close association or acquaintance between two or more people that may range in duration from brief to enduring. This association may be based on inference, love, solidarity, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment. The significance of interpersonal communication isn’t limited to interpersonal relationships, but rather it holds importance in fields like business. Therefore, it is of prime concern to acknowledge what impact social media has on interpersonal communication. Companies that try to connect with their clients and customers through social media must have insight into the ways the interpersonal psychology while using social media might exert influence on their client relationships.
The regular media such as the television, radio, and newspaper allows only one-way communication, whereas social media gives a platform for interaction among the users. Social media is of much help to those who find it more liberating and comfortable to interact online in place of conversing face-to-face because of nervousness. Another advantage of online interaction is that people can get out of the boundaries of geographical proximity for connecting to people with same interests. Social media sustains the relations which might have been at a disadvantage due to the absence of geographical proximity. It enables interaction that may have been inconceivable without it.
However, it must be asserted that instead of bringing people together, social media can instead create distance among them. Although people are becoming more social with the use of social media, there has been an inevitable shift in our ways of communication. More and more online interaction has led to reduced face-to-face interaction.
There are three theories which must be mentioned in order to understand how social media brings about changes in interpersonal communication and relations of the users. The theories are Technology Determinism, Social Penetration theory and the theory of Uses and Gratification.
According to the theory of Technology Determinism, “technology is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” Opportunities for new experiences and the ability to be present anywhere all the time are invaluable gifts of the social media.
The Social Penetration theory describes the development of interpersonal relationships as a slow process. As noted in a research, “Social networking sites impacts on interpersonal communication skills and relationships” by Pritta Chasombat, “Computer-mediated communication has sped up the intimacy process… People are more likely to disclose more personal information on Social Networking Sites than they would in face to face communication because the level of control is higher (Ledbetter et al., 2011).”
The theory of Uses and Gratifications gives four basic requirements, viz., Information, Entertainment, Personal Identity, and Personal Relationship and Social Interaction. All the four requirements are met through social media as people can create social networks, socialize, connect with those who are at a distance. They can vent out their opinions and receive feedback from the public. They can utilize it as a means of information from their preferred sources.
Among the negative impacts of social media on interpersonal relations, the most destructive one is alienation. Works of Charles Blow, such as Friends, Facebook, and Neighbors, observe that social media contributes to rewiring of relationships and social alienation. Social alienation is a high degree of isolation and distance among people. Since people spend most of their attention into the virtual life, they often tend to invest less energy in their immediate present. This leads to weakening of social ties, loss of the ability to interact and engage oneself in that interaction, and social alienation.
Daniel Gulati, in his article, Facebook is making us miserable, notes, “behind all the liking, commenting, sharing, and posting, there were strong hints of jealousy, anxiety, and, in one case, depression.
Some scholars argue that online interaction has a negative effect on the quality of communication. The underlying reason for this is that the non-verbal communication that takes place during interpersonal communication is left out when people interact through social media. The non-verbal communication includes the tone of voice, body posture, gestures and facial expressions. The non-verbal communication is the key to a rich communication. In its absence, messages are hard to be interpreted with surety and the meaning of a message remains unable to be clarified. This is what results in the depletion of the quality of communication, further leading to animosity among people.
Guy Debord, in his theory of the spectacle, explains how the image of a thing appears to be closer to reality than the thing itself. Social media has the same effect on interpersonal relations, where the social relations are mediated through mere images.
Social media has brought a twisted change to the concept of ‘friend’. It induces us to compare ourselves with others, which often makes one feel like a ‘failure’ leading to depression.
Social media not only impacts the interpersonal communication and relationships but also the character of the users. Social media is making us impatient and anxious. Many teenagers and adults wake up in the middle of the night just to check their phones because they fear missing out something that is happening on the social media platforms, as if the information will not be available the next day. People begin to have tantrums out of restlessness if they don’t find access to social media for a few hours. We are losing our ability to interact with intensive engagement in face-to-face interactions.
As Ani DiFranco said, “any tool is a weapon if you hold it right.” Social media is to be treated as a tool for man, rather than letting man be a tool for it. Further, it is to be used only to an extent which is more advantageous than harmful. Firstly, one needs to limit the time spent on social media. Moreover, one needs to be able to recognize the negative changes that social media brings to one’s emotional behavior, and also curb those changes by seeking a balance between one’s online and offline life. Interacting through social media is undoubtedly more convenient, but it is also less qualitative. Though it has become an inescapable part of our lives, social media has to be handled so that it doesn’t become the main focal point of our lives. It is for us to choose whether to use social media for conflicts or connection.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpersonal_relationship, accessed on 15th December, 2017
 Ledbetter, Attitudes toward online social connection and self-disclosure as predictors of Facebook communication and relational closeness, Communication Research (2011)
 Warat Karuchit, Media effects theories, Communication Theories and Innovation Communication. (2013) Bangkok: National Institute of Development Administration.
 Gulati, Daniel. Facebook is Making Us Miserable, available at <http://blogs.hbr.org/2011/12/facebook-is-making-us-miserabl/>, accessed on 20th December 2017
NOTE: This is a an article that took part in our Essay Writing Competition. It was selected to be one of the essays that compete for the second prize. Congratulations!
Name: Mansi Beniwal
College- Rajiv Gandhi National University Of Law
A few words from the author:
I chose the topic, “Social Media and its impact on Interpersonal Relationships”. The reason behind my choice of the topic was inspired by my own personal experience in the age of technology. I daily witness alienation of those around me due to social media. It’s not the social media that is to be blamed but rather the way we are using it.