Is Social Media technology helping or hurting real-world relationships?


Has Social Media improved or hurt the overall quality and morality of life in America?

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There is no doubt social media has fundamentally changed how the world communicates and interacts with one another. Some welcome it as a gift from God to more effectively communicate. Others are more cautious. Still others are doing everything to resist it.

But one thing is for seemingly certain: It’s here to stay. But are those that long for simpler times of hand written letters, licking stamps and actually dialing somebody’s number on the telephone on to something important? Is a letter sent via the postal service actually more or less personal than an email? Than a tweet or a txt message? Or are such people just nostalgic and resistant to change?

Surely there were similar feelings against the printing revolution that felt books just weren’t as “personal” and enjoyable when they weren’t handwritten. But of course all of us today who have benefited so much from the wide-spread availability and mass production of printed books think it would be a tragedy if people still went around insisting that books be handwritten.

So is this social media revolution any different? I would say yes and no.

First, I think it is futile to resist it entirely. You’ll likely have as much success as those that resisted the ink pen, the photograph, or the personal computer. Second, it is ignorant to ignore the power available through social media to do good. The potential for improving the economy, for helping people, for assisting relationships with family and friends, for finding answers to problems you face, not to mention the ability to spread the message of the gospel, has only continued to increase. In this respect, we have a moral obligation to use it.

However, I also think it has become that much more dangerous for us. Just like any “good” in the world, the “gooder” it is the more easily it can be twisted and abused into something bad. It is a place to be tempted more. It makes it easier to be somebody we’re not. It makes it easier to hide behind an impersonal profile. It can detract from our personal relationships more than it adds. It’s an easy escape. It can become an addiction…a very unhealthy one. And I think it has for many people, including myself some days.

We can get so plugged into this digital world that it enables us to neglect the real world right next to us.  And so we do.

Here’s an interesting video on the “Social Media Revolution” – check it out! And please vote in the poll down below it. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section as well!

And if you have a minute, please share why you voted like you did in the comment section! Thanks so much!

6 comments Add comment

Cade_One September 8, 2009 at 2:32 pm

I voted, “It has slightly improved it” and this is why I think so. I am losing my job and I never saw the potential of social networking until now. I have people all over the world praying for me, I have received words of encouragement, I have met people who are also losing their jobs, and I have even gotten some freelance opportunities through these relationships with people I otherwise would have never have met.

I also see the potential that sites like,, and has, when it comes to helping local parishes grow in community.

One of the lines in the video that really stood out to me was that “Social Media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the web.” This is very interesting. Something that is virtually void of “relationship” has been replaced by something that is predominantly built upon “relationship”.

However, as you posed in your blogpost, are these relationships equal to “real-life” relationships? Yes and No. Some of the friends that I’ve met online, I feel like I’ve known for a very long time. I would say even more so, the Podcasters I’ve listened to over the years. But, the difference between Podcasting and Social Networking is that Podcasting, more often than not, is one sided. You get to know the Podcaster, but when you meet in person, you quickly realize that this person knows nothing about you. Social Networking bridges this gap. A perfect example of this is when I met Greg from the “Rosary Army Podcast”, “That Catholic Show”, and “The Catholics Next Door” at the New Media & Faith Conference quite a few years back. Greg said, “Hey Josh!” I was feeling pretty special, because he actually knew who I was—Or did he? Then I looked down and saw my name badge. I felt kind of stupid. As the conference went on and especially during the meet & greet they got to know us a little more and we them. So, there is something to be said about meeting people in person. Like, I never knew how tall Greg truly is. He’s a giant! : )

If social networking is taking the place of our real-life interaction with people then it is doing more harm than good. I hate it when friends come over and sit there texting the entire time they’re visiting. Or at family gathering and my sister-in-law is texting while we’re supposed to be playing boardgames. It’s about respect. Can social networking become a bit narcissistic? I have seen this in my own life. I’d be sitting with my family and excuse myself to go tweet about something. “Can’t it wait?” they’d moan. Not in the World of Twitter! I guess I thought that if I was excusing myself, it was better than sitting there tweeting via text message. It comes down to respect. Don’t let social networking get in the way of your real-life relationships.

One more thing about web 2.0 vs. real-life. My Aunt subscribes to the Catholic Register. She waits for her news to come in the mail. I get my Catholic News on Twitter and in my e-mail inbox. But on the other hand, I would prefer buying a hard-copy of a book than purchase a digital copy. Some things are just better in the real-life. Relationships and Books are some of these. God Bless.

gels September 13, 2009 at 2:44 pm

I’ve chosen the middle of the road response because regardless the benefits or the detriments of social media, these online tools act to facilitate content, and what decides the moral good are the people using them.

I think a good thing to remember using social media is the intent behind the people who drive these tools, and whether or not the tool is going to actually solve you’re problem. As an interface designer, I’ve worked in countless situations where people believed that using a specific tool or design could bridge the issue they faced in the workplace or between clients or coworkers. Sure, it might’ve helped in getting the conversation going, but in the end, a tool was not going to solve their communication problem until they resolved several age old offline issues.

And how well does this tool facilitate? Facebook uses ‘friend’ as a blanket term, but what defines ‘friend’? How many people do we call friends that in actuality are complete strangers, yet now we share the obligation of a ‘bond of mutual affection’ without having any personal exchange whatsoever? Twitter at least uses a generic ‘follower’, no strings attached. Perhaps in our fear of being alone we make too many compromises. Not to mention, this limited nomenclature only further detriments our already limited capability to communicate effectively online – according to one public policy expert, only 7% of how we communicate is done verbally – the rest is done mostly through body language (Community Management in Open Source, David Eaves)

As for intent of these tools investors, we can only guess. The Gaurdian gave us something to think about in early 2008, revealing the thoughts of Facebook investor Peter Thiel (also co-founder and CEO of PayPal), who apparently shares the belief with Thomas Hobbes that life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’ and that it should move ‘towards a new virtual world where we have conquered nature.’ A sentiment which is also reflected in Second Life , where people can literally be whatever or whoever they want, even mix-and-matching genitals or animal prosthesis. A new virtual world indeed.

It’s also worth noting that Facebook’s questionable Terms of Service with complete disregard to personal privacy has now been challenged by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and given an ultimatum of thirty days to meet this challenge – which, thankfully, Facebook has agreed to – although it’s policies were left untouched for several years before this was even considered.

I’d like to say more, but I’ve said enough to make my point: we’re at a stage where we can have access to most everything, but how do we handle this information – and eachother – in a meaningful and respectful way.

Here’s some great documents to follow up with that concern the Catholic Church’s position specifically (available from the Vatican website):
The Church and the Internet
Ethics in Internet.

Angela Santana November 28, 2009 at 5:21 pm

You’ll be interested in reading some of the answer to this and other questions in my upcoming thesis. :)

Matthew Warner March 4, 2010 at 11:10 am

I posted some particularly Catholic insights from this video over on a recent post on my National Catholic Register blog here if interested.

Jordan Henderson May 19, 2010 at 12:08 pm

What possible purpose do on-line polls serve?

The results are of extremely low quality, so what can you glean from them?

We might get upset or feel justified about the results, but I don’t know that helps anything.

Matthew Warner May 19, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Jordan – they certainly aren’t very scientific, but that doesn’t mean they are low quality. They are fun. They give an easy way for readers to give feedback and input. And they are perfectly useful at seeing what a particular group of people – Fallible Blogma readers – think about a particular issue.

Thanks for the comment!

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