This research examines social media becoming the biggest platform for communication throughout the world and forever changing interpersonal communication and relationships. The effects social media usage has on interpersonal relationships is changing the way the world population communicates and forms face-to-face relationships, while decreasing human social and behavioral skills. If the trend of social media and online interactivity and communication continuing to rapidly grow and increase in the future, the more time the population will spend interacting on social media, which means the more face-to-face human contact skills, as well as interpersonal relationships, diminish. The studies examined study two important questions emerging—the first one regarding why a significant chunk of the world’s population chooses to use social media every single day in such high volumes, while interpersonal relationships slowly take a back seat, and the second question ultimately asking how such time-consuming virtual relationships effect social media users’ concrete interpersonal relationships with individuals they cross paths with in reality, giving insight as to what this means for interpersonal communication in the future.
Social Media Effects On Interpersonal Relationships
With its new advancements in electronic technology progressing every day, its rising popularity in society, and its constant, continued use within that society, social media has become the biggest platform for communication throughout the world. Whether businesses use it for promotion, advertising, and marketing, charities and groups for raising awareness and fundraising, or families, friends and individuals simply seeking information, wanting to build and maintain relationships with those around them, near and far, the purpose of social media allows for one specific task to be executed efficiently and effectively in the easiest possible way—spreading a message.
Spreading this new form of message, regardless of intent, opens the gateway for universal communication 24 hours a day, 365 days a year from any geographical location, changing the communication process indefinitely. With the world swallowing up this new means of communication, and with social media usage progressively continuing to skyrocket, this new form of technology opens up a new channel of tightly woven interconnectivity and interactivity with individuals for the first time, forever changing the way the world population interacts, communicates, spreads its messages, and ultimately forms relationships. And with these positive advancements in communication and building relationships through social media, social media also incorporates negative advancements in communication and building relationships, alluding to online communication trends transitioning into interpersonal communication trends, exterminating the need to communicate face-to-face and crippling the way in which the population communicates interpersonally.
Since the primary focus of communicating with others through social media is entirely online with such high frequency, mainly through social media’s biggest platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, social media users shift their primary habits of communication to mirror online communication. Within the realm of online interactivity, social media users can actively gain significant numbers of friends and followers at one click of a mouse behind their computer screens without ever having to meet other users face-to-face, disregarding basic social and emotional skills otherwise needed to form those friendships. Social media users can also create their own profiles, allowing its users to be whomever they wish without having to expose any real identities—another disregard for establishing substantial interpersonal relationships.
Since social media’s main purpose is communicating, its platforms are open for discussion opportunities in the forms of virtual panels and chat rooms, allowing social media users behind a protected mask to openly announce messages they otherwise would never project in a face-to-face conversation. Social media users can also check in at certain locations and also form meeting times and groups to come together at virtual locations, also canceling out the need for establishing interpersonal meeting times and groups at a concrete location. All of these features, including uploading pictures and videos, writing statuses, and tweeting incessantly allow social media users to inadvertently create virtual lives, without having to interpersonally interact at all, outside of the real, concrete, substantial lives they live every day in reality.
And as statistics, activities, frequencies, and volumes of social media users continue to rise, along with the amount of time users spend consuming social media platforms per day, while interpersonal communication relationships and social skills continue to diminish, two important questions emerge—the first one regarding why a significant chunk of the world’s population chooses to use social media every single day in such high volumes, while concrete interpersonal relationships slowly take a back seat, and the second question ultimately asking how such time-consuming virtual relationships effect social media users’ concrete interpersonal relationships with individuals they cross paths with in reality. But these two questions together collectively ask the most important question of all: what does this mean for interpersonal communication in the future? The following studies closely examine these questions, while providing effective research and breakthroughs within the virtual social media world.
Since the concept of social media usage is fairly new, social media usage takes its most dominating presence with “digital natives,” a term used for the generation growing up having and using computers. The New York Times online article “Antisocial Networking?” reports on a 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, finding that 54 percent of American teenagers—defined in the study as ages 12 through 17—communicate with friends through text and social media, while only 33 percent say they talk to their friends face-to-face on a daily basis (Stout, 2010). The same article also says that these study findings came a few months after the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that Americans between the ages 8 and 18 spend on average 7 1/2 hours a day using some sort of electronic device (Stout, 2010).
With such a high percentage of this generation using social media as frequently as 7 hours a day, social media represents a huge following of the world’s population in its virtual world. And although reasons for such frequent usage vary by individual, “Antisocial Networking?” states that the study found that, to some children, technology is merely a facilitator for an active social life (Stout, 2010). But having an active social life online does not necessarily mean having an active social life in face-to-face reality, and it’s this trend of children being more interactive in online relationships and steering away from interpersonal relationships that concerns psychologists. Stout states the following on the study:
“Writing in The Future of Children, a journal produced through a collaboration between the Brookings Institution and the Woodrow Wilson Center at Princeton University,Kaveri Subrahmanyam and Patricia M. Greenfield, psychologists atCalifornia State University, Los Angeles, and U.C.L.A. respectively, noted: “Initial qualitative evidence is that the ease of electronic communication may be making teens less interested in face-to-face communication with their friends. More research is needed to see how widespread this phenomenon is and what it does to the emotional quality of a relationship (Stout, 2010).”
Whether unclear exactly how great the impact social media is on interpersonal relationships, this new technology is undoubtedly affecting the closeness properties of friendship, and Jeffrey G. Parker, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, says this issue is of importance (Stout, 2010). In the study presented in “Antisocial Networking?” Parker says, “These good, close relationships — we can’t allow them to wilt away. They are essential to allowing kids to develop poise and allowing kids to play with their emotions, express emotions, all the functions of support that go with adult relationships. (Stout, 2010).”
In Stout’s article on the study, Gary Small, a neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A., and an author of “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind,” believes that “Even though young digital natives are very good with the tech skills, they are weak with the face-to-face human contact skills (Stout, 2010).” If the trend of social media and online interactivity and communication continues to rapidly grow and increase in the future, the more time the population spends interacting on social media, the more face-to-face human contact skills diminish.
With the question of how much time social media users spend on social media platforms and how social media users practice the purpose and functionality of each social media network answered, the next question in the series of research is uncovering why social media users are so involved in using social media platforms at every chance, why social media users prefer to interact and establish interpersonal relationships virtually, and why this new phenomenon is now taking the place of interpersonally communicating with other individuals face-to-face on a daily basis.
In the 2012 Washington Post online article “Teens in Survey Paint Positive Picture of Social Media’s Effect on Their Lives,” Cecilia Kang reports on a social networking national study by the child advocacy group Common Sense Media of more than 1,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 17 using social media frequently. One in five youths say using social networking sites make them feel more confident, popular, and sympathetic to others (Kang, 2012). The study also finds that although youths do use social networking for positive reasons, 41 percent of these youths have hints of “Facebook fatigue” and are addicted to these devices, 43 percent wish they could “unplug” sometimes, and 36 percent would like to go back to a time before Facebook was invented (Kang, 2012). So are the positives outweighing the negatives for social media users? With one quarter of teens using at least two forms of social media per day, many teens express almost an adult-like weariness with the pressures of constant posting involved in their modern lives (Kang, 2012).
But in the both virtual and internal conflict over the effects social media usage has on their interpersonal relationships, social media users still speak fondly on the benefits of consuming social media platforms regularly. Half of these surveyed teens from the study say social networks have helped their friendships, while only four percent say social networks have harmed their friendships, while three out of ten teens say social networks make them feel more outgoing, compared to the five percent who say they feel more introverted (Kang, 2012). And still an even bigger question arises. Half of these respondents still say real-life communication is the most fun and fruitful for their relationships (Kang, 2012). If social media users consider real-life communication to be the most fun and fruitful for their relationships, why is real-life communication increasingly plummeting?
Another study reported on by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Online’s article “Study: Self-esteem Can Rise from Facebook But Weight, Credit Suffer” and conducted by Andrew T. Stephen, assistant professor of business administration in Pitt’s Katz School of Business, and Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, finds that people showed elevated levels of self-esteem if they have strong ties to Facebook friends (Todd, 2013). Studies also show that positive feedback from Facebook friends is only part of the confidence boost, because a large part is also related to the “presentation bias” that comes with using the site to present one’s most positive qualities to the public (Todd, 2013). If positive feedback and reinforcement are main factors in determining why social media users rely so heavily upon using the social media platforms to form relationships opposed to forming and maintaining concrete, interpersonal relationships face-to-face, an additional focus of study on the specific area needs to be in more closely examined—why social media makes social media users feel more confident.
Limitations of These Studies
The three previously stated above studies, along with current studies still being examined today, all share a single common denominator. All three of these studies, much like other qualitative research covered and made available on this area of social media usage effecting interpersonal relationships, focus primarily on how social media users effectively communicate and form relationships virtually. These studies focus on pinpointing exactly how many social media users use social media and for what purpose, and how often these users are logged into social media platforms. These studies can determine from where these social media users log in to communicate, and these studies can determine the activities of these social media users, what most social media users prefer online, and why social media users find social media platforms more favorable in terms of communicating and forming relationships.
Which is why these studies have now found a substantial reason as to why social media usage is now becoming the main source of communication throughout the world. Studies indicate that social media users experience boosts in self-esteem and confidence, majority of social media users consider themselves to be more outgoing online rather than compared to in-person, and social media users are actively more social when using social media platforms. As previously noted, these studies have uncovered why social media usage all over the world is steadily increasing—social media is a form of communication that makes users feel good about themselves when using these online platforms to connect, share, form, and build interpersonal relationships.
The limitations these threes studies, also in comparison with all other presently conducted studies, is the fact that no further research has been conducted to experiment as to why social media platforms and social media usage make social media users feel increased levels of self-esteem and confidence. Because the online world of social media and communication is relatively new and continually growing, researchers have not yet conducted further studies to determine factors as to why increased social media use leads to an increase in sense of self.
Researchers are just discovering now that social media does, indeed, affect emotional and behavioral aspects of the social media user. There is no further research as to why, and more importantly, how greatly social media affects these characteristics.
A second limitation of these studies includes determining just how greatly social media usage effects interpersonal relationships. Present studies do indicate that social media does, in fact, effect interpersonal relationships and the way people communicate with one another. But these studies are limited to finding exactly how much the effect impacts interpersonal, face-to-face relationships as of this point in time.
And thirdly, these studies are limited in the area of exactly whom these studies survey, monitor, and interview. Since social media is fairly recent in technology, the average age of social media users is a young generation. But as social media continues to grow, more adults are now becoming familiar with and using social media regularly, possibly as much as the younger generation. The current studies focus on a younger demographic, when they should also focus on an older demographic as well. Targeting an older demographic leads to the possibility of yielding different results, which could ultimately yield to more substantial and clear, concise reasons as to why social media affects interpersonal relationships.
With current research limiting, and future research detailing the emotional, psychological, and behavioral reasons as to why social media users cling to this virtual new world to connect and communicate instead of primarily focusing on in-person contact for their relationships still needing to be conducted and analyzed, social media’s effect on the world’s population and how it communicates and forms interpersonal relationships is still clearly evidential. This is apparent in the study examined in Stout’s “Antisocial Networking?” from Jeffrey G. Parker, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama saying:
“In general, the worries over cyber-bullying and sexting have overshadowed a look into the really nuanced things about the way technology is affecting the closeness properties of friendship. We’re only beginning to look at those subtle changes (2010).”
The article also says that the study found those who study relationships believe the question is important because close childhood friendships help kids build trust in people outside their families and consequently help lay the groundwork for healthy adult relationships (Stout, 2010). But if virtual friendships soon take the place of real-life friendships, what does the pattern of friendship project for the future? The article examines New York University Child Study Center psychologist Lori Evans, who says:
“These are things that we talk about all the time. We don’t have yet a huge body of research to confirm what we clinically think is going on (Stout, 2010).”
Beyond psychologists confirming the situation, social media users confirm the change in the way communication is being exchanged and the way interpersonal relationships are being established simply by continuing to use all social media platforms available frequently and continuously, showing no signs of stopping. With usage continuing to skyrocket, along with functionality of each platform and new features constantly being showcased, the buzz about social media continues to immerse the world population in all things virtual, ultimately increasing the demand for social media and simultaneously increasing the usage of social media, while decreasing face-to-race, real-life interpersonal communication.
Social media’s widespread success and transformation of not only interpersonal relationships, but overall communication, also contributes to the positive emotional, psychological, and behavioral effects social media users feel when using the social media platforms. Because social media is associated with positive energy and positive rewards, social media users will spend even more time indulging in the online world, instead of catering to those relationships in real-life, therefore decreasing the value of face-to-face interpersonal relationships and diminishing basic human social and behavioral skills.
Conclusions and Future Study
Since the primary focus of communicating with others through social media is entirely online with such high frequency, mainly through social media’s biggest platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, social media users shift their primary habits of communication to mirror online communication. Within the realm of online interactivity, social media users can actively communicate and form relationships with other users without ever having to meet those users face-to-face, disregarding basic social and emotional skills otherwise needed to form those friendships.
As statistics, activities, frequencies, and volumes of social media users continue to rise, along with the amount of time users spend consuming social media platforms per day, while interpersonal communication relationships and social skills continue to diminish, two important questions emerge and continue to be studied—the first one regarding why a significant chunk of the world’s population chooses to use social media every single day in such high volumes, while concrete interpersonal relationships slowly take a back seat, and the second question ultimately asking how such time-consuming virtual relationships effect social media users’ concrete interpersonal relationships with individuals they cross paths with in reality. But these two questions together collectively ask a more important question: Why do social media users need social media to feel more confident and have increased levels of self-esteem? And ultimately, what does this mean for interpersonal communication in the future?
With current studies and tests relating to social media effecting interpersonal relationships, research finds that there is a correlation between using social media and interpersonal relationships—the more time social media users spend connected online using social media platforms to communicate and establish interpersonal relationships, the less time social media users spend establishing face-to-face interpersonal relationships. The present social media user population continues to soar, while frequency skyrockets as well, as users are logged in to social media all the time. Social media users spend majority of their time online communicating instead of communicating face-to-face in real-life.
Social media users are aware of this, but at this point do not see such negative effects social media has on interpersonal relationships, as the more social media is used, the more face-to-face interpersonal relationships diminish. Instead, social media users are blind-sided by the positive effects social media usage has on their lives, as they experience increased levels of self-esteem and more confidence.
Undoubtedly, the effects social media usage has on interpersonal relationships is changing the way the world population communicates and forms face-to-face relationships, while decreasing human social and behavioral skills. In the highly likely event of the trend of social media and online interactivity and communication continuing to rapidly grow and increase in the future, the more time the population will spend interacting on social media, which means the more face-to-face human contact skills, as well as interpersonal relationships, diminish.
To raise awareness of this effect to social media users, scientists could conduct a study in which all social media networks were shut down for 24 hours. The social networks, of course, would have to agree to this first. The social networks could make a statement to users in advance, detailing more information about the study and decision. Shutting down social networks for 24 hours forces the world to disconnect from the online world and find other ways to spend time. This would force the world to communicate face-to-face and interpersonally. As result of this study, some social media users may actually prefer communicating in real-life more than communicating online, whereas before they forgot the benefits of interpersonal communication. This may decrease social media usage.
Since social media users are primarily the younger generation, all previously and current conducted studies examine youths between the ages of 12 and 19. Because the trend of social media is ever growing, research can also take another direction and study adults who use social media. As word of new social media networks continues to remain popular, more adults are joining these networks to communicate and form relationships.
Studies can examine adults to see if adults use social media for the same reason youths do, as well as examine as to why adults use social media, what they see as positive and negative, as well as discovering whether or not social media has the same positive effect on adults in terms of confidence and self-esteem.
And lastly, another direction of study on the effects of social media usage on interpersonal relationships should focus on why social media users experience these increased levels of self-esteem and confidence. What is it about social media that makes users of these platforms feel better senses of self? Why does social media make users of the platform feel better senses of self? And ultimately, to what extent does social media influence these positive feelings?
Stout, Hilary. (2010, April 30). Antisocial Networking?. The New York Times.
Kang, Cecilia. (2012, June 26). Teens in Survey Paint Positive Picture of Social Media’s Effect On Their Lives. The Washington Post.
Todd, Deborah M. (2013, Feb. 1). Study: Self-esteem Can Rise From Facebook but Weight, Credit Suffer. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.