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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.
So central to social media are relationships – interactions – they take the form of friendships, followers, these sorts of things. They’re all about building social networks of different types. So on social media come to interact and intervene in our relationships and our friendships and the connections we make with lots of people in different ways. Now that’s led to all sorts of outcomes in the way that we understand relationships and the way that we build friendships
cos originally people thought of these things being separate: that there was an online and an offline world . But as we know, the relationships that we have are a combination of kind of social media and material spaces that we occupy in the real world. Those things aren’t things we can easily separate. Now the trends in social media are towards acceleration – things getting quicker – and things getting more visual. So as social media has evolved it’s become less text based and more about images and the instant connections that we make with people. And this is why we’ve seen the rise and continued rise of Instagram and Snapchat that are more visual forms of engagement with people in social media spaces.
Now we might turn and we might try to understand how that means that aspects of relationships are also exposed to that acceleration and that increasing instant kind of judgement. One obvious way to do that would be to look at things like
dating apps: the kind of swipe to the side to make an instant judgment about the image you’re presented with and therefore the person you’re presented with. So within these dating apps we can see broader trends in social media towards the instant and the visual and therefore we can see broader trends towards the instant and the visual becoming part of the relationships that we build with other people and the way that those relationships evolve.
And one of the things that I look at with students is the way that a new kind of etiquette around relationship building, around dating and these sorts of things, is emerging as the dating environment starts to blend with these social media type apps in which instant and visual judgment is prioritised.

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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