I was entertained by how engaged this group of young adults were in discussing the impact of social media on dating behaviour during this UNBOXED episode. It’s refreshing to witness the animated conversation. Their comments touched on some issues of common behaviour, not just dating, or social media usage. So, while I don’t exactly belong to the generation and am not dating, I share thoughts on four such issues here. Do take a moment to view the clip for context, before reading the rest of this post.
1. Do social media (SM) make it easier for us to connect with strangers we’re attracted to, or affect our habits in socializing?
There’s a preponderance of evidence to support the view that online platforms offer us a degree of detachment which enboldens us. This detachment affects our behaviour in social media (SM) settings in noticeable ways. On the sour side, much of the online bullying and other forms of deviant behaviour is made possible, or fueled by the detachment perpetrators feel while engaging in conduct they shrink from in face to face (f2f) interactions. On the sweet side, the more introverted users of SM feel emboldened by it and tend to be more expressive and spontaneous, even when interacting with persons they have met online only.
Just to be clear, being emboldened by the detachment we experience in online interactions has nothing to do with deception. Deception is reprehensible, whether it occurs in f2f interactions, on SM platforms, or any other circumstance. The emboldenment I’m referring to finds expression in the willingness to self-disclose by airing feelings, preferences, opinions, etc in group settings, in contrast with keeping them to yourself.
More likely than not, you’ve already noticed that some of the persons you interact with f2f are more introverted and others more extroverted, yet that personality trait isn’t a reliable predictor of the value an individual contributes to your wellbeing. For all that, we still have communication preferences, in relating with others.
When you do get to meet persons you’ve been interacting with online in f2f settings, it’s natural to expect them to be as expressive and spontaneous as they are online. That expectation isn’t informed by the effect of online detachment and may leave us feeling disatisfied, or even deceived. Yet there’s a more educated and beneficial way to deal with the disconnect than walking away from an opportunity to deepen your relationship with them. The truth is, we virtually all of us are emboldened by the detachment we experience in online interactions, irrespective of how introverted, or extroverted we are. Therefore, it doesn’t serve us well to be judgemental towards the more introverted; it’s simply hypocritical. There are many anecdotal stories of email messages and SM posts which their authors sent, or posted in the heat of a moment, because of the emboldenment I’m referring to and then lived to regret the impulsive act. It just may be that you yourself have been a victim of such impulsiveness on more than one ocassion.
2. How much of your personal life are you comfortable sharing online and contemporaneously?
I read about a tweet Chrissy Teigen sent her followers, on how she found out in rather unpleasant circumstances that her husband John Legend had had their water closet removed without telling her. I remember feeling, “Well, this probably isn’t intended for me,” as I read the report during an idle moment. It was that underwhelming to me, because in my view, it offered too much information on what doesn’t matter. Yet, neither I nor anyone have the right to define the level of detail everyone must adhere to, in using SM. Platform operators like Facebook and Twitter do have rules about common decency, political content, etc which they require users to adhere to, but beyond those, it’s up to users to choose what they will put up, or put up with. It’s properly and entirely the right of the individual user to appoint the level of detail and on a case by case basis.
In truth, I don’t use most of the popular SM platforms at all. I don’t consider it in my best interest to use them, for various reasons. Contemporaneous users of those platforms (such as Chrissy Teigen is) may not feel comfortable with my choice. They may even consider it anti-social, for that matter. I get that and have decided that as an introvert and based on my other life style choices, it’s a risk I’m comfortable with. In anycase, there will be others across the globe who feel comfortable with my choice.
For clarity, I’m not against Chrissy Teigen sharing as much detail as she chooses to on SM contemporaneously, about life with her husband. Indeed, I see some benefits from her doing that; it should make it easier for the couple to stay grounded, despite being celebrities, for example. It should also make it easier for their followers to bear the couple’s vulnerabilities as fellow human beings in mind. Nevertheless, the contemporaneous use of SM is not my style and each individual must determine what they’re comfortable with, in using this new means of founding community.
3. Should SM users expect to know the digital background of a stranger before they make an effort to get to know him, or her in face to face encounters?
Prospective employers increasingly expect to find detailed information on your career development and, in some cases, your social connections on SM platforms like LinkedIn, etc. They look to those sources to corroborate, or elaborate on what you present in your résumé. There’s a sense in which their expectation is legitimate. The more enlightened employers are concerned to build and maintain a corporate culture which aids the successful pursuit of their corporate goals. It’s reasonable for them to seek evidence from an applicant’s references and any other legitimate sources, to reassure themselves that the prospect will indeed fit into their corporate culture, or that he doesn’t carry any obvious baggage which will inhibit, or limit his effectiveness in the role he’s applied for. As a matter of fact, it’s in the interest of both employer and job seeker to scrutinize the closeness of fit between them as comprehensively as possible prior to contract, to avoid having to deal with a mismatch later.
Individual users of SM too are increasingly turning to the popular SM platforms like Snapchat to fill gaps in their knowledge about persons they find it necessary, or desirable to interact with. Where we might previously have enquired from mutual acquaintances about a person we’ve recently met, we now turn first, or increasingly to SM to gain that familiarity, or inform us about the person. This trend is likely to continue and be accentuated, because of emerging software technologies which are powered by artificial intelligence, such as:
- Mixed reality, which will enable us to combine online, cloud based information and computing resources with our immediate sensual experiences (what we see, touch, etc), in wearable gadgets like the poorly received Google Glass and Microsoft’s HoloLens.
- Virtual reality devices, which empower the individual to replicate visual circumstances and experiences hitherto beyond his scope.
Such emergent technologies promise more immersive computing and communication experiences to users. Judging from our attitude to smartphones, we’re likely to become even more and not less reliant on online resources, because of the immersive experience new technologies deliver. As a result, our decisions to connect with, or avoid strangers we encounter will likely be influenced more and more by SM and other online recources.
Does that sound somewhat eery, or futuristic? Well, be mindful that it’s already happening in China, where the police have started deploying such technologies to enhance their surveillance capabilities. Should SM users expect to know my digital background first, before they’re willing to interact with me? The question has in reality become a moot one now, however frustrating that may be to some of us.
4. Ought persons in a relationship to feel, in the very least, insecure about the relationship, if their partner declines to share details about them online?
This goes to the core of the conversation in the UNBOXED episode above. To my way of thinking, it relates closely with Q2; the right of the individual to determine how much of his life circumstances he’s comfortable sharing online contemporaneously, or otherwise.
Disclosure on SM can’t be legislated; there can’t be a single standard which all couples must necessarily adhere to. Such a standard would be impossible to enforce and will in all likelihood, penalize some unduly and unintentionally.
In the end, it’s best for the two persons in an exclusive relationship to negotiate this matter between them respectfully and with sensitivity to the level of privacy either of them feels comfortable with. If they do succeed in doing that, they introduce, or reinforce a mutuality which enables couples in long standing relationships to enjoy secure, intimate fellowship together.