Our lives have become inundated with Social Media. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and scores of other social media sites take up a significant chunk of our time. There surely are some benefits of the social media platforms but there are an equal, if not greater, number of risks associated with the overuse of such platforms. One of the worst side effects of social media is the damage it has done to relationships of all kinds; the relationship between couples, parents and children, siblings and friends.
It is very easy to fall prey to the false sense of connectedness that these platforms advertise. But, in reality, it takes away too much from real relationships and renders people all the more discontented and lonelier leading to an increasing percentage of depression and anxiety amongst people of all age groups and backgrounds all around the world. A great number of us would admit to have fallen in the trap of valuing connections with online “friends” more than actual, real, offline relationships. The reason why online relationships can never match up to offline relationships is that online relationships do not incorporate responsibility, repercussions, accountability and a sense of security.
Online relationships are laden with risks. You can never know if you are being fooled by a predator, an identity thief or if your emotions are being toyed with for fun or with an intention to use the connection to some selfish advantage. You never know how the personal information you are sharing with a virtual stranger can be misused.
Online relationships do not come with any responsibilities. When you are sick, you don’t expect your online “friend” to be by your side and nurse you back to health. You can’t count on your online friend to be there for you and support you emotionally through crises. There is no guarantee that the person will stick with you through thick and thin and the reality is that the person on the other end of the phone can log off one day never to return again, with absolutely zero accountability expected of them. The moment their interest wanes and the moment you stop being useful to them, they can disappear without notice and there’s nothing you can do about it.
These relationships cannot be authentic like a real relationship because in the virtual world people project a filtered image of themselves, you don’t get to see the person’s interactions in social settings. These people take part in your life through the filter of what they choose to tell you.
Given all this, neglecting offline relationships to pursue online friendships is a recipe for disaster.
Research conducted in the U.K and US states that “one in seven divorces result from spouses being occupied in “sketchy” social media behaviour”.
A study published in the journal Pediatric Research concluded that because of parents being preoccupied with their online life, they miss out on forming a connection with their kids in their formative years and get to a situation where they are completely clueless about what’s going on in their children’s lives. This has led to a growing number of kids who feel lonely, isolated and angry and act out, becoming ill-equipped socially.
Teenagers being sucked into the whirlwind of social media are losing out on forming connections with their siblings and miss out on forming healthy bonds with their family that would have lasted a lifetime for the short-lived thrill and excitement of online connections.
This folly isn’t age-specific, people of all ages are susceptible to taking the easy way out of deriving instant gratification from these ephemeral connections, when they could be spending the time, effort, attention, energy and care and concern to nurture relationships with their family and friends.
This dependence on online connections for meeting one’s emotional needs can get very toxic and can take a really very ugly shape. A study cited by PsychCentral states that American college students “describe abstaining from social media the same way they describe drug and alcohol withdrawal- cravings, anxiety, feeling jittery”. You would know if you have an unhealthy addiction to the virtual stimulus if you can’t get yourself to put your phone down to attend to your family and friends in person and find yourself getting restless awaiting likes, comments and replies from your online connections. Another symptom is extreme despondency when your online friends do not respond immediately or conveniently forget to check-in regularly. I think all of us can agree that staring at your phone screen waiting to see the “blue ticks” and “typing…” from online connections is not a healthy way of spending our emotional and mental energy. The roller coaster of highs and lows with the wavering attention and interest of those connections, for whom you are in all likelihood one of many connections they use for time-pass, is just not worth it. You would be better off investing all of that emotional energy in strengthening ties with people around you.
The truth is these flaky online connections drain the energy for in-person social interactions leading to dissolving emotional bonds with family and friends.
The strength of a relationship is determined by the time and effort you invest in nurturing the relationship, if you drain all your emotional resources in keeping up with the virtual reality of online connections, people in real life would surely start to drift apart because of the lack of interest and involvement shown by you. And you can’t really blame them because relationships are two-way streets, the value a relationship adds to your life is determined by the value you attach to it. Relationships require shared experiences, shared memories, and online platforms can’t sustain real relationships because they cannot support the activities required to make a relationship work.
R.I.M Dunbar, PhD, a professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, states “Friends exist to provide us with shoulders to cry on when things fall apart, no matter how sympathetic someone may be on Facebook or even Skype, in the end it is having a real shoulder to cry on that makes the difference to our being able to cope.” That nicely sums up and reinforces the need for the realization to look up from your phone and look at your loved ones with undivided attention.