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Fast friends: the accelerated connections of the online world

For this video, Dr David Beer looks at how our relationships and connections with others have been transformed by developments in social media.

On social networking sites, we navigate a world of relationships, from remembering to like your family members’ photos on Facebook to looking for love in all the wrong (or right) places on online dating sites and apps.

In this video, Dr David Beer discusses the way in which online relationships have evolved, as a consequence of changes in social media both from a textual focus to a visual focus, and from a slower pace to a much more instant one. For example, the instant judgement people make on dating apps like Tinder is far quicker than reading through someone’s profile and interests before deciding whether to contact them. On such dating apps, and on social media sites like Instagram, the visual is key. As we explored last week, the ease of taking, editing, and sharing photos of ourselves can drive obsession with appearance. And when this appearance can be directly related to making friends and finding romantic partners, there is even more pressure to look ‘perfect’.

Meeting people in a sped up way isn’t confined to social media. Speed dating and university freshers week events are examples of face to face accelerated interactions, in which people alter their usual behaviour by doing things like answering ice-breaker questions in order to try and work out who they might get along with. However, with social media, these relationships occupy both an online and an offline world. You might get to know someone very quickly in an online setting, but feel different when you are meeting face to face. As with our own identities, navigating the virtual and physical aspects of our interactions with others is complex.

The etiquette around social media changes through these developments, particularly acceleration: people expect instant replies, want people to ‘like’ their photo as soon as it is posted, and assume everyone is almost constantly contactable through the internet. The old acronym ‘BRB’ (be right back) is falling by the wayside: with devices in our pockets, we can reply wherever, whenever, with no need to warn people when we’re away from the keyboard. As we looked at last week, this has implications for our wellbeing, and we may need to schedule time for ourselves to switch off.

Many people have been looking at their own use of social media, thinking about whether they need to cut back on their usage. However, it is currently difficult to do this, with social media and video conferencing a vital way for keeping in touch remotely. Instead, it is worth thinking about your use of social media and whether you need to give yourself rules or boundaries so you can take breaks from being constantly contactable, or have a rest from socialising. Later this week we’ll also be looking at some of the ways we can take care of ourselves and others on social media.

It may be useful for us to step back and think about our interactions with others, how these may have changed if they are now predominantly online, and how you navigate online and offline elements of relationships.

  • Are social networking sites helping you keep in contact with people you cannot see in person? How do online spaces allow you to communicate with people in different ways? Is there a different speed to this than communicating in real life?

  • Are any new relationships of any kind being formed across online spaces? Does the format have an impact on them?

  • Does the choice of platform have an impact on the kind of relationship or vice versa? Would you use different platforms for family, friends, colleagues, etc?

Further reading

Lomanowska, Anna M., and Matthieu J. Guitton (2016). “Online Intimacy and Well-Being in the Digital Age”. Internet Interventions 4 (1 May 2016): 138–44.

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