Would you survive a day without your phone or laptop? I know I couldn’t. Today we have a need to be constantly connected to people. We are constantly either texting or utilising some form of social media to remain connected. We send our parents a text to say we’ve arrived at uni; we tag our friends in Facebook posts and we exchange “asks” with people on Tumblr. It seems that we can’t survive without some form of communication media!
For my digital storytelling project, I decided to delve into the topic of online communication media. I wanted to explore the role of social media and texting in creating and maintaining relationships and the differences in talking online and in person.
I was lucky that 3 friends of mine were willing to share their experiences and thus allow me to explore this topic.
In her interview, Katie stated that she had met “too many people to count” online. Katie used to establish friendships through social media/blogging sites such as Tumblr. “I specifically made several friends through Tumblr by bonding over mutual interests.” As her friendships progressed, Katie began using other social media sites and chat rooms daily to maintain these friendships. Although she no longer uses Tumblr and social media to build friendships, Katie did consider a few of the people she met to be close friends. I asked Katie whether she has met any of these friends in person, but she has not.
A key part of our discussion revolved around the difference between meeting and communicating with someone online and in person. When asked about this, Katie replied “I think it can be very different…I find that it is easier for me to hold a conversation online with certain friends…[but] I find it just as easy to talk to other friends in person.” Katie noted that she feels confident in both situations, but prefers face to face conversations “simply because the pressure of sending the perfect message or interpreting the other person’s message correctly does not apply.” I asked her to explain in more detail why she prefers face to face conversations, to which she replied that speaking to someone in person allows her to “respond to their body language and facial expressions…and interpret their reactions.” Furthermore, Katie made the extremely valid point that
“online interactions can often lead to misunderstandings when someone’s true intentions aren’t conveyed properly through their words.”
It is essential to strategically word text and online messages, as poor word selection may lead the receiver to misinterpret the message.
Finally, Katie and I discussed the role of social media and texting in maintaining relationships. Jess has become more reliant on social media and texting to communicate with friends and family “simply because of [her] busy lifestyle and theirs.” Social media and texting allow Katie to stay in contact and maintain relationships with those in her life despite her busy schedule with university, work and other social activities.
Diane also agreed to share her experiences in online communication. Over the years, Diane has met several people on Tumblr that she considered friends. She used to communicate with these “friends” after school everyday.
“We used to watch TV shows together…well sort of. We would talk to each other online while watching TV shows, as if we were actually watching them together.”
However, Diane has now “gone off Tumblr and Twitter” and consequently only messages these friends “every now and then”. I was interested to know whether she had met any of these friends in person. Issy “only met one… it was coincidental… only a quick hello.”
We also explored the difference between communicating online and in person. Diane shared similar views to Katie in this regard, as she believes “its easier in person as you can show your tone of voice and personality. Otherwise online you are just typing general greetings.” Additionally, Diane feels more confident communicating in person, as conversation flows more easily. She finds that “you put more thought into talking to people online and you can get caught up in wondering what to say.” Our last topic of conversation was the role of texting and social media in maintaining relationships. Diane “hardly communicate[s] with family and friends on social media.” She has a group text message chat with a few close friends,
“we share things that make us laugh or interesting topics. But it doesn’t take over our face to face conversation.”
She argues that the ability to communicate online and via texting is essential in maintaining relationships, as “if you don’t talk to them constantly, you would feel disconnected from them.”
My final participant Chad has met “too many people to count” online, but would only consider 5 of them to be friends, “even the term ‘friends’ might be pushing it.” Chad made these “friends” by chance on chat sites. These “friendships” “are very different relationships to those I have with my close friends.” Unlike the other participants, Chad has met 2 of these “friends” in person. He actually travelled to another country to meet someone he met online. He noted that it was “not super different meeting them, but much more real obviously and you can bond more easily.” Next, we discussed the difference between communicating online and in person. In contrast to the other participants, Chad finds it “somewhat easier” to communicate online as “you can stop talking to them whenever.” However, he asserts that if you really want to be friends,
“you have to meet them to see what they are really like” as “there are some things about people that you can only learn about them from meeting them.”
From these interviews, some conclusions can be drawn. Firstly, communicating online is challenging, as it is difficult to deliver your message in the intended way. Secondly, due to our busy lifestyles, we rely on texting and social media to communicate with the people in our lives. However, is this healthy? According to Shelley Galasso Bonanno, nothing can match the emotional and physical closeness of real life relationships. Online friendships are valuable in many ways, but do not provide us with opportunities for deep, lasting emotional closeness. Perhaps this is why my participants rarely contact their online “friends”. Hence, we must maintain the balance between online communication and real life interaction in order to sustain real and healthy relationships.
However, Amanda Lenhart notes some positive consequences of using social media to maintain relationships. She asserts that social media helps people (especially teenagers) feel more connected to their friends’ feelings and daily lives.
Furthermore, she notes that texting plays a crucial role in helping close friends stay in touch. 55% of teenagers surveyed by Lenhart text their friends daily, but only 25% spend time with their friends outside of school in person each day.
My participants relied heavily on texting to communicate with friends during their busy schedules, as texting is quick, convenient and easy to use when making plans (Huffington Post).
Perhaps it isn’t a bad thing that we’ve become so reliant on communication media. Although we are constantly texting or using social media, we do so to maintain relationships with those we care about. Hence, communication media positively impacts our lives and relationships. However we must remember to achieve a balance of online and face to face communication in order to sustain the true closeness in our relationships.
NOTE: all names have been changed (with permission) for privacy reasons.