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Friendship in the Age of Media

Introduction

Social media influences the nature of human relationships. It has become a key determinant of who becomes friends and the friendships that endure the test of time. In tracing the impact of social media on relationships, this essay will examine how social sites provide opportunities for people to begin friendships. Also, how social media helps to develop and cultivate existing friendships and, finally, how social websites reduce the time for physical interactions between friends. Social media provides the chances for building relationships between strangers and friends but tends to divest time off real-life relationships.

Online Social Sites Provide Opportunities for Building Friendships

Social websites avail the opportunities for people who are not known to each other to make friendships. Some people have never met physically, but through sites such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, they are forming friendships. The basis of such associations grows from the existence of mutual interests in hobbies, work, holiday destinations, or public figures, expressed within a social network. Hall (2018) explains that proximity and chances for contact set the platforms for friendship growth. Potential friends make quick assessments of the desirability of each other and afterward decide to spend time together. The assessments lead to the formation of a group of people with similar interests, from where closer friendships can develop. The establishment of new friendships takes a short time, ranging from 3- 9 weeks after the initial contact (Hall, 2018). Therefore, social media serves as a tool for recruiting close friends. Social media allows the formation of extensive networks of relationships (Matook & Butler, 2020). The friendships start from a casual level, and depending on mutual liking, some develop through the stages of good friends, sympathy group, to close friends.

Oline communication offers a chance for socially isolated people to build friendships. Such a category includes people who experience social anxiety and thus find it difficult to integrate themselves in social situations. Social anxiety is a crippling fear of being watched and evaluated by people. The fear often starts in teenage years in persons who are extremely shy (National Institute of Mental Health, 2020). People with social anxiety require a gradual introduction into social settings. Social media provides the platform for them to interact without feeling overwhelmed by regular physical interactions. The anxious people can then progress to real-life settings once they get acquainted with online contacts. The nonphysical nature of social sites offers the safety needed to build friendships progressively. The socially isolated people can build long-lasting friendship using social websites as the launching platforms. Social media is a platform for people who have never met to build relationships. It is also a platform for strengthening existing friendships.

Social Media Enhances Existing Relationships

The use of social media websites strengthens real-life relationships. People use social networks to extent interactions with existing friends. Social sites offer the platform to interact, track friends’ progress in life, and to share information. Hall (2018) explains that there is a limit on the number of close relationships a person can have, which is approximately 150 people. Hall (2018) argues that the volume of the brain’s neocortex limits the ability to recognize the uniqueness of a person, remember information, past interactions with the individual, and understanding of the persons’ association with other people. Close friends, therefore, select to use social media to invest in their relationships due to the inability to exceed their capacity. As friends continue to interact in social sites, they strengthen bonds, know each other more, and develop new mutual interests. Chowdhry (2016) found out that people’s inner friendship circles remain the same in real life and social media sites. Vast networks of friends on social media have no relationship with having a large inner circle.

Many online contacts are often distant acquaintances without personal interactions. Social media also offers the opportunity for friends to cultivate self-confidence. People develop a perception of the self by observing how others perceive them (Lesley University, n.d). Horton Cooley’s looking glass-self theory explains that individuals use the judgments they receive from people during social interactions to measure personal worth and behavior (Lesley University, n.d). Whenever a person shares a post on social media, the positive comments from friends make the person feel more confident, increase the sense of self-worth, have a better professional image, and feel helpful to others (Lesley University, n.d). Therefore, social media strengthens existing friendships by providing more avenues for interactions and enhancing individuals’ self-image. The strengthening of a personal sense of self avails opportunities for increased communication. The concept of socialized anxiety by Allison Davis helps to reinforce positive support in social media. Socialized anxiety is the discomfort a person feels, which influences their behavior. It serves as a controlling factor for action in social settings. Intense socialized anxiety promotes responsible behavior necessary for positive social media use. However, extreme levels of socialized intensity negatively affect the ability of a person to socialize in a way that benefits others. As people become busier in careers and lack time for face to face interactions, social media plays a role in preserving relationships. Chowdhry (2016) explains that by expanding social circles, a person can prevent the dying out of friendships due to limited physical interactions. Extensive use of social media can also negatively impact existing real-life relations.

Extended Use of Social Sites Affects Friendships

Frequent use of social websites reduces the time for physical interactions with friends. Social sites provide a space that is easy to manipulate or control than typical real-life situations. Friends can find it easier to share more content on social media than in physical interactions. For example, two friends can be good at chatting through Facebook Messenger, but in real-life communications, they may lack words to express themselves fluently. People tend to form various versions of themselves on social media sites. The social versions are a limited extension of individuals called cyber self (Lesley University, n.d). An individual will present different cyber personalities for each media platform, such as a professional side in LinkedIn or an artistic self on Instagram (Lesley University, n.d). The use of varying personality expressions means that whenever friends interact on a social site, they communicate based on their personalities for the site. Social media communication tends to focus on the latest trends and lifestyle patterns, which further diverts attention from the real aspects of friendships. The concern about missing out on something big happening tends to drive incessant addiction to use social sites.

Young people are most affected by social media, which makes them impatient and seek instant gratification (Gaughan, 2015). The symbolic interaction theory explains how social media grows in significance in people’s lives. According to Aksan et al. (2009), the theory explains that symbols build the basis and the direction of facts. Symbols and meanings arise out of mutual interactions in social settings. According to the symbolic theory, human interactions are the source of data (Aksan et al., 2009). People develop activities according to their assessment of themselves and the people and objects around them. The events lead to the derivation of meaning, which then directs human actions. It’s a cycle where humans form social roles, structures, and laws, that in turn, form their behavior (Aksan et al., 2009). Symbolic interaction explains how socialization preserves social norms. The application of the theory on social media use explains how people derive lifestyle meaning and influence from social sites. As the use of social media rises, friends retain interactions of particular dimensions in the specific media sites, while they focus on different content during real-life meetings.

Discordant interactions tend to fracture relationships by eroding the content of physical communications. As people devote more time to social media interactions, there is less time for face to face talk. Due to the finite nature of time as a resource, social media leads to reduced time for real-life interactions. Stanley Milgram’s small-world experiment showed that people link together through short chains of connections (Kleinberg, 2004). The analysis explains that friends are often in close geographical proximity. Therefore, whenever long distances arise between existing friendships, the relationships tend to grow less intimate. Although social media sites avail friends at the touch of a button, the apparent social closeness amplifies the geographical distance between them. The increased use of social media discourages real-life meetings because it is less costly than traveling to meet physically. Christensen (2018) also explains that the increased use of social media leads to a corresponding decrease in the level of interpersonal relationships. In this sense, the time for physical interactions tends to decrease as the time for social media communication increases.

Conclusion

Social media offers opportunities for people from different walks of life to build relationships without physical interactions. It is also evident that social relationships tend to decrease the time available for real-life friendships. Social media websites present a quick fix solution to interactions, which catalyzes a reduction of physical meetings due to the fewer expenses and ease of communication. The use of cyber self makes communication easier by focusing on specific areas of life rather than the wholesome approach in real life. Social media also helps to strengthen the existing relationships by offering more platforms for interactions and fostering a definite sense of self-worth necessary for relationships. Socialized anxiety helps to shape the appropriateness of online conversations by driving people to act responsibly.

Extreme levels of socialized anxiety cause people to act in ways that do not benefit fellow users of the sites. Moreover, social media presents opportunities for people who have never met to become friends and share their life interests. The pool of friends in social media forms the selection base for closer friendships. It is also a platform for socially isolated individuals to reenter social settings without feelings of fear or rejection. The impacts of social media indicate that technological advances will always affect how people socialize. As new technologies continue to emerge, all societies should retain the core principles of friendship in an ever-changing world. If people fail to cultivate adaptability, they will increasingly become isolated and depressed. The world will fill up with persons who cannot break the limitations of technology to relate meaningfully, something that every society should avoid.

References

Aksan, N., Kısac, B., Aydın, M., & Demirbuken, S. (2009). Symbolic interaction theory. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 4(1), 902-904.

Chowdhry, A. (2016). Most of Facebook friends are not real friends, says study. Forbes.com. Web.

Christensen, S. (2018). Social media and its impact on relationships and emotions. All Theses and Dissertations, Brigham Young University.

Gaughan, D. (2015). FOMO: The fear of missing out and how it is evolving in today’s digital age. Medium.com. Web.

Hall, J. (2018). Hours it takes to make a friend. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 36(4), 1278–1296.

Kleinberg, J. (2004). The small-world phenomenon and decentralized search. SiAM News, 37(3), 1-2.

Lesley University. (n.d). Perception is reality: The looking-glass self. Lesley University. Web.

Matook, S., & Butler, B. (2020). Social Media and Relationships. In R. Mansell & P. H. Ang (Eds), The international encyclopedia of digital communication and society, (pp. 1-12). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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