Friday, September 26, 2008

How Does Social Media Affect Our Romantic Relationships?

I recently visited my friend Laura who lives in San Francisco. I brought my camera and tripod so I could record an interview / conversation with her about how she interacts with Social Media in her job. She currently works in SEO for myspace in SF.

It's been a while since Laura and I hung out. When I got there, I was introduced to her roomates, friends and the layout of her new apartment. Laura, her roomates/friends and I were talking about what we do for work and started into a conversation about how Social Media has changed the dynamic of our romantic relationships. 

I decided to set up the camera and aimed it at the table where four of us were sitting enjoying a fine snack of wine and cheese. (This is seriously uncharacteristic of a snack I commonly have. I think residents of the marina district don't grab Heffeweisen and almonds for things to snack on.) In my haste, I recorded the visual, but didn't set up the microphone correctly. Which really is a crying shame because the conversation was awesome.

I'll try to recap a lot of the topics here. Feel free to jump in with your own insights. I'd love to hear your opinion.

  • Facebook has presented a lot of interesting interactions with some of the girls and people they have dated. One girl, Shannon, was un-aware that her now-boyfriend was making any sort of advancement. There was not a proper "asking out" as she was accustomed to. When they had first met at a mutual friend's party, they both didn't speak to one another. He sought her out after the party in hopes of making a connection. He asked her, via-Facebook, if she wanted to grab coffee since they both worked close by to one another. Shannon expressed how confusing it was for her because there was no way to register where he was coming from. Everything was done electronically, and the informality of it all made it seem as if they were just buddies. She said it took her about 4 "dates" before she ever realized that he had been interested in her all along.
  • All of us agree that it feels "safer" for us to give out our email address or way to find us on Facebook or Myspace. The fact that we don't have to participate in a verbal exchange via the telephone provides an extra layer of comfort. I asked if the girls were approached in public and asked for their phone numbers vs. their email address which would they be more likely to give out. All of them said they wouldn't give out their phone number until way later in the correspondence.
  • The issue of "status" changes came up. This partially relates to the "Tawnee is cleaning her room" status update (which isn't true, although I should clean my room),  but it primarily rests on the relationship status update. When one visits their home screen on Facebook it is listed as "Billy has changed his relationship status to *Complicated*" Conversations that once took place between a couple regarding "taking this relationship to a more committed and exclusive level" is administered by pulling a drop down menu and asking for a confirmation. For those of us who still have our ex's as "friends" on Facebook, we can see when they date new people or when they break up. This level of involvement is heavy and completely new for the lot of us. I assume that a lot of our post-breakup hang ups come from the level of visibility we have surrounding our past partners. It is not typical for us to know what they ate for breakfast, see all their pictures from their recent trip to the beach, and have the option of staring at their new love interest. 
  • There is an understanding that our profiles may not accurately portray our identity. All profiles are the best version of one's self, true. But profiles also assume that other people have a general idea of you are to begin with. We talked about instances when people get to know your profile before they ever get to know you. Sometimes it is an unfair advantage, because they know they already know what interests you both have in common, and are able to highlight those factors and shadow others. This is not to say that this is a scheme; somewhere there is a person in a dimly lit room skimming through your Facebook profile writing down all the ways to lure you into their grasp. You two will go out to dinner and talk about the things you love and you will be misled, only to one day find out that your love was a ruse and your heart is now meticulously broken. No, not the case. That is not the point I am trying to make. If you met somebody you found attractive and they were wearing a shirt of a band you like, it would be a great segway into a conversation. These type of coincidences happen naturally. But there seems to be a bit of the novelty stripped when your favorite books, tv shows, music, and movies are listed. The treasure hunt isn't so much a search anymore. It's more like knowing the presents are on the top shelf, so you get a step stool. In some cases, mine in-particular, people assume that being introduced to my music and my photography means that they know me. They talk to me as if they have known me a long time, so the initial introduction is awkward.
  • The girls agreed that introducing a person to their profile changed the dynamic of face to face interaction. They noticed a difference in the tone of the messages, they were more flirtatious, more direct, and more familiar than if the girls had just met the person face to face. 
Again, it's easy to realize that our social interactions are changing. But for some of us, it's hard to come to terms that the old ways of communicating and interacting (or what are the "old ways" for our generation) are fading.

More on this later... I have to go sell my old car. 

[24 hours later]

OK,  I sold my old Explorer successfully. It is still baffling to me that I can post a few pictures and specs on Craigslist and have over 20 people respond in a matter of hours. I had two people competing for the truck... this in a time where gas prices are astronomical. I was under the impression that SUVs are a thing of the past. I mean, I opted out of having it, right? I digress somewhat, although the topic is still within the scope of social media. Because of the advances in social media and online networking, a process that could have otherwise taken me weeks to accomplish took me a mere 6 hours from start to finish. I am so thrilled to not have to worry about that anymore.

 Back to our topic, where were we?

Ah yes. One of the questions I asked the girls, and I'd like to ask you now, is how would removing social media from your relationship change the dynamic you and your partner share? What if we all did a social experiment. We asked our partners, best friends, parents or whoever else we correspond most with via text messaging, Facebook, myspace, etc. to not contact us by those means. The rules are that you can only converse by ways of regular telephone calls and face to face interaction. Considering my best friend and I text non-stop throughout the day (she is in grad school at USC and I am typically busy at work) our conversations would go from massive to nearly non-existent. I wouldn't be able to see her photos from her weekend adventures on Facebook, and wouldn't hear hilarious anecdotes about her escapades about LA. I am not a big phone-talker; texting is so much more efficient and tangible. I don't have to be concerned about lulls in the conversation. My point is always made. If I receive a text I find sweet or entertaining, I can save it. 

I adore the advancements in social media, but I also recognize how it may prove to be detrimental down the line. We have not scratched the surface of what social media has to offer. It will eventually explode, and like a mushroom cloud, will encapsulate all of us and all of our interactions, whether it be personal or business. Right now we are on the cusp of a transition. We still have the "old" ways of communicating (it seems so funny to call the telephone and "old way" of communication) and they are still prevalent and present, but they are interspersed with new social networking.

As we slip further away from traditional communication, I wonder how this will change our instincts, how it will shape the dynamics of our personal relationships, how it will alter the way we speak and think. 

I am not hesitant when it comes to adopting new social media techniques, I just hope I don't get so lost in the process that I loose my ability to recognize the change.

1 comment:

lunghelo mlati said...

i like the insight you have given and i wil surely take your views into consideration. i wil be using some of your views in my research projects sure hope they come across to others as it has to me!