Sunday, December 2, 2012

Social media is influencing the way people communicate

Social media has significantly impacted people’s lives in the past decade. According to a research, Americans spend eight hours a month on Facebook. Because of the convenience and efficiency of communicating on social media, nowadays people are spending more time chatting and sharing information on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and many other social networking sites. The conventional face-to-face interact is now gradually replaced by other forms of communication such as sending Instant Messages, following other users on Twitter, and commenting friends’ photos on Facebook. In many ways, social media is influencing people’s communication behaviors both positively and negatively.

Social media has made it easier for people to know and stay in touch with others
Facebook exceeded 1 billion users. 
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Social media provides a convenient way for people to make new friends. For example, Facebook, a social networking site that creates a well-connected network for people, is now becoming part of our social life. A recent research shows that Facebook reaches one billion users in October, which may indicate that it’s becoming more and more possible to find someone you know on Facebook.

Another advantage of Facebook is that it helps  people discover someone who shares same interest with them by searching key words such as the names of sports, movies and books and then joining in the specific interest group. People would have many opportunities to make friends with others who also pay attention to the group and chat with them regardless how far away they live. Also people would broaden their circle by discovering mutual friends and learning about their basic information by browsing their personal pages.

Social media also helps people to keep in touch with others. Leisa Reichelt, an independent consultant in London creates the term “ambientintimacy”, which describes that through social media, people are “able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.” Sometimes when people can’t meet each other face-to-face, they can still know what’s going on with their friends by reading the statuses they post.

I have my own experience of "ambientintimacy". Many of my friends are now in universities that are far away from mine. Although I can’t meet them every day as it used to be, I can know what is happening to them recently. My friends frequently post their photos on Renren, a popular social network in China. When I browse the website, I see what they did in their school club activities, what's their new haircuts, even what they eat for dinner.

However, social media may also change the way people communicate in a negative way
Although the initial purpose of the creation of social media is to help people keep in touch with each other, it would change the way people communicate negatively if they depend too much on the social media. Recently I had a short interview with Professor Jacquelyn Murdock, instructor of communication 107 class in University of Maryland. She expresses her concern about the barrier social media creates among the younger generation:

Murdock says that younger generation rely on social media too much and they now have problems with face-to-face communication, and that will harm their physical and mental health. According to a BBC news report, Dr Aric Sigman, a biologist, says that the lack of face-to-face interaction could “alter the way genes work, upset immune responses, hormone levels, the function of arteries, and influence mental performance”. He also says that “websites such as Facebook set out to enrich social lives, but end up keeping people apart”. Different from talking directly, typing is more likely to conceal one’s true feeling.

I once read a sad news report about a mother chatted with her daughter who went to college by IM(Instant Messages) every day. The daughter always sent her messages that showed how happy she was in her college, and she frequently used emoticons such as “smiling face”. She never showed any symptoms of depression or sadness. However, her mother would had never imagined that one day her daughter was found suicide in her dorm. This is an extreme example of social media keeping people apart. However the sense of distance is now a common problem among social network users.

 Communication on social media doesn’t equal to the “real” social life

People have to be aware of the fact that that communicating on social networking sites can’t replace the “real” interaction, which is “being together geographically”. There are a lot of differences between communicating face-to-face and communicating by social media. 

Murdock says that one of the biggest difference she found is that people tend to tell more secrets anonymous on social media, contrary to their behaviors in the real life:

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 Face-to-face communication is based on many important factors. The graphic shows that people express themselves not only by what they say, but also by nonverbal language such as their body gestures, intonations and facial expression. All of these factors compose a “full person”. People also need high concentration during the conversation and then quickly make responses.

However, when sending messages on the internet, people have more time to think about what to say. It was reported that some teenagers who got used to chatting online had difficulty in communicating with others in daily life because they couldn’t respond quickly while they talked to others.

There are always two sides to everything.We live in the internet age, and most of us can't deal with our social lives without social media. Also, the social networking sites won’t disappear overnight. Maybe the best way for us is to find a balance between virtual and real social worlds. Although social media can’t be our lives, it will be a helpful tool for our social activities if we use it efficiently. For example, we can expand our online interactions to face-to-face meetings via in person events such as Tweetup. I believe that we will definitely use the social media more wisely after learning about both of the pros and cons.

Do you think social media is making your social life better or worse? Brianna, a senior student in the University of Maryland shares her own experience:

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