This weekend, I visited Geneva with my girlfriend Alexa, who is also studying abroad this semester, in Madrid. What was sure to be a great chance to catch up, and trade stories about our time abroad, also resulted in a series of observations about the way social media can both positively and negatively influence an offline relationship.
Before getting into these observations, it’s important to note that after taking this class, I have tried to cut down my own frivolous use of social networking sites. Most notably I’ve stopped frequently checking Newsfeeds on my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles. Just as a result of being less active on these online channels, I’ve also reduced the amount that I have contributed to these sites over the last month. I think this change in my own behavior was what enabled to make some of these observations about how Generation Y, and more specifically my own girlfriend, could potentially use social media in ways that can disrupt or enhance an interpersonal situation.
For instance, on the second night of our trip Alexa and I went to dinner at a restaurant along Lake Geneva. When the food came, I instinctively picked up my fork, and she, equally instinctively, picked up her iPhone. When I looked up at her, I was given a mildly scolding glance that reminded me not to ruin the dish’s presentation before she could take an Instagram picture. In a situation that to me, transcended the satisfaction social media might offer, Alexa wanted the validation of an Instagram picture to either re-affirm or preserve the happiness of the present moment. Regardless of reasoning, it became clearer than ever to me that by making a present moment about the online social capital that it could attain, the moment itself could actually be compromised, especially for others involved.
This image is courtesy of Flickr user eGuide Travel.
The next afternoon, I had a completely different observation of Alexa’s frequent social media usage. It was her turn to pick a restaurant, and she used outlets like Foursquare and Yelp to find the best value eateries in Geneva. Her research led us to a homey restaurant in Old Town called “Chez Ma Cousine”. The rotisserie chicken was amazing, the staff was friendly, and the value for the money was completely on par with what Foursquare and Yelp had suggested. We were so happy that she found such a quality place to eat, that it completely amplified the entire lunch experience as a whole. When I thought about it later, I appreciated the fact that social media could point us to an above average, yet fairly priced restaurant in a foreign country, that neither of us would have been able to find alone.
This image is courtesy of Flickr user adamgreenfield.
Although these examples are simplistic, to me they are indicative of how social media can both enrich and detract from offline, interpersonal situations. I’ve realized that when used supplementary to an offline experience, and for an information related purpose, social media can be quite rewarding; however, when such usage interrupts an offline interaction, and is targeted around self-validation, it can compromise the present moment. Unfortunately, current statistics are not encouraging. An article outlining some key social media statistics shows that uploading photos, a largely self-gratification based action, is still the most popular activity on Facebook. Another indicates that a growing number of Facebook users, now over 20%, check their account more than five times a day. Perhaps this excessive engagement is why it took a sabbatical from my own social media usage to be able to fully identify the distinction between helpful and harmful online involvement. The only question that remains is: if more people are made aware of how social media impacts offline relationships, will they have the discipline to change the way they participate on social networking sites?