Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Social media affect on relationships

Last week, Trooper and I attended a panel discussion about social media, and how people today tend to be "tethered" to our technology and social networking sites. One of the topics the panel was asked to discuss was how social networking sites have affected friendships, and other relationships.

It got me does connecting with someone online change the way we handle relationships?

We all know social networking sites, and the internet in general, has changed how we meet people. I think everyone knows someone whose relationship has been affected one way or another by facebook. And of course, there's the now age-old question - when should we change our relationship status, or when should I friend my new interest?

Those issues seem to exist when there are questions about the relationship itself. If facebook, or twitter, or whatever, didn't raise the concern, something else would. Or the issues come up as a result of compulsive, unhealthy use of a social networking site.

I'm talking about when two people are in a healthy, happy, functioning relationship, and they are connected on social networking sites, which they also use in a functional, healthy way. How does that affect relationships?

For example - Trooper and I are connected on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Foursquare. Neither of use Google+ all that much, and I'm much more active on Twitter. But what about Facebook and Foursquare? One site tells us where the other is, even even when we're not together. The other site reveals who the other is talking to - and what about. The sites also give us the chance to interact publicly.

We are by no means unique in this dynamic. Most of the couples I know are connected on at least one social networking site. But how does it affect the relationships?

Does it change how we behave? Does it give us more to talk about, because we're constantly connected ("Did you see what so-and-so posted on facebook?")? Or does it take away some of the connecting we'd do in person ("I don't need to ask what you did today; I saw it on foursquare.")?

These themes came up again and again during the discussion we attended. The panel was made up of a communication professor, student, journalist, and a psychologist. Over and over, the talked about how the key to not allowing social networking to take over your life was to set limits, and find balance.

Resist the urge to "follow" him around on foursquare. "How was your day?" is an important question to any couple. It shows you're interested - and some app on your phone can't replace that connection. If you catch her post on facebook, don't comment. Instead, say whatever you have to say to her - in person, not on her wall. Let the post trigger a more meaningful, intimate exchange.

As with everything - if you're in a healthy, happy relationship, the social networking should work for you - not against.


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