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Social Media Reshapes Interpersonal Relationships

Features Editor

Published: Monday, December 3, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

If you see someone holding their phone at an arm’s length and making a funny face at it, you may have once thought they were clinically insane, but not these days. After capturing aforementioned image, scribbling a mustache on, and adding a layer of text, this picture may be sent along to another, but just for a short time. After a predetermined number of seconds, ranging from 1 to 10 the picture will forever disappear.

The technology that is responsible for this, is an app called Snapchat , and if you aren’t already a member, you may want to look into it further. The app allows you to snap a picture that you take, to someone else with a Snapchat account. By adding a text overlay, it can be one way to deliver a quick message to someone, and is one of the latest communications offered to users of phones with Internet capabilities, mainly iPhones.

Professor James Morrison, an adjunct faculty member in the communications department, who teaches “Interpersonal Communication” at Boston College, spoke highly of the differing technologies that allow humans to communicate in an efficient manner, “Both the printing press and the World Wide Web are enabling technologies that have created the grounds for all other technological changes succeeding them.” Morrison does not seem as enamored with smartphone technologies as many BC students who are Facebooking, FaceTiming, texting, and snapchatting their friends. “The greatest benefit of a smartphone is that it allows us to be constantly connected to the world. The greatest drawback of one is that it allows the world to be constantly connected to us,” Morrison said. According to Katelyn DeSimone, CSON ’14, “The best part of having a smartphone, is that we have every form of communication we need. We can call, we can text, we Facebook, and check other social media sites.”

Though many, especially students, love the technology they carry in their pockets, Morrison has a much bleaker outlook on smart technologies: “They hinder communication by shrinking it to the size of a small screen and isolating us from the world around us while we serve its demands. Sherry Turkle, at MIT, who was once a proponent of ‘life on the screen,’ which constituted the title of one of her books, has recently published a book recanting much of her initial enthusiasm, seeing how much ‘smart’ phones separate us as we ‘connect.’ The title is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.”

But is leaving someone a wall post really that different and disconnected from letter writing when it really comes down to it?  That is one of the great questions of our age. Letter writing was communication that was also not done face to face, and it took a lot longer to perform this correspondence. With texting, tweeting, and posting, we are able to communicate sentiments in a much faster manner.

Unfortunately, Morrison does not believe that people will use this technology as a supplement to face-to-face communication, but as a replacement for that very vital form of connecting.  Face to face communication is an important component for relationship building, as Morrison is acutely aware as an interpersonal communication teacher, and his general outlook on the future of relationship building is bleak, “Is there such a thing as a ‘dating’ world any more? I doubt it. That’s the world of the landline telephone, an eon ago,” he said. Mary Kate O’Malley, CSON ’14, seems to agree to some extent with Morrison. “I think our generation has lost its ability to communicate face to face, so we fall back on technology,” O’Neill said. “I think it’s a problem for everyone.”

Rather, Morrison suggests that students “develop mindfulness in everything you do. There’s an ancient saying: ‘Quod facis bene fac.’ Rather than trying to multitask, and inevitably failing, turn off distractions and focus. To quote Warren Zevon, ‘Enjoy every sandwich,’” he said. In our busy world of Twitter notifications, Instagram updates, pokes, likes, messages, and Snapchats, communicating can overwhelm the average Smartphone user, leaving them craving some real face time, not the iPhone version.

But our communication preferences are just as fleeting as a snapchat photo, or our love of a new Taylor Swift album. Things get old fast, which is no surprise today when infinite options are at our fingertips instantaneously. But at what point will we simply have too many options? Will we ever find ourselves resorting to the written letters of the past? Only time will tell.

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