People are always debating whether social media has a positive effect on their relationships with people. Many people have the fear that using the Internet to create and keep connections is a distractions from real-life interactions and leads to more passive connections.
With the holidays begin the quintessential time for togetherness, I thought I would look at how technology can help people improve their relationships with friends and family.
While one of the arguments against social media has been that it creates an additional level of separation between you and those you love, I caught up with Dr. Pamela Rutledge, a media psychologist and the director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and she explained the benefits that we might are seeing.
"What people do naturally, is connect with other people using every tool at our disposal," said Rutledge. "What these devices are doing is creating more tools to compliment that desire to connect and engage."
Keeping the connection year round
I have never been one for the small talk. When it comes to having the same conversation about how school had been or what the year was like for me, friends and relatives would get monosyllabic responses at best, but social media has allowed people to stay updated in the lives of those that matter most to them.
Rutledge says that this moderate amount of interaction and awareness of the lives of others makes holidays, reunions and other gathering easier to have more meaningful discussions since the same talk has almost glossed over since it is right on your social media wall.
I also find this level of engagement with friends from high school or middle school to be a nostalgic way to not feel so far away from the people that live back in my home town. When I do go visit and inevitably run into 15-20 of my former classmates, at least I know that they have children or got married last year and I don't feel so disconnected from their lives even if I live 3,000 miles away 11 months of the year.
Bringing the older generation in
As with most technology, brining in the older generation can take time and patience, but it well worth the effort when you realize that your aunt and grandmother would love to see graduation photos and baby photos anytime the mood strikes.
Once you can convince relatives that some social media options are better than photo albums, since albums can only be one place at a time, then you can see the great benefits of digital sharing and connection so that anyone can look at and comment on the memories of a trip or family reunion.
And, as mobility decreases in the older generation, the connections available for them online can be a great compensator and equalizer so that the physical distance doesn't feel as large when they can write messages and receive updates throughout the year.
Using the best media possible
But just like face-to-face connections, you have to make the most of the interactions you are having and the tools you use when connecting with others. Rutledge reminded me that if you are using the best technology in the appropriate way, the actual tool just disappears.
With the example of the phone, you rarely think about the phone when you are talking to another person. More people need to think about this effect when they connect with other media.
Once certain technology has integrated itself into our lives, it just becomes the best tool of communication for particular jobs.
I know that this holiday season I communicated with friends and family much differently than I would have five years ago.
Rather than sending Christmas cards to my grandparents, I was able to Skype and make that deeper, face-to-face connection. I sent out personal texts to all my closest friends to wish them well. I got to see photos of many of my friend's babies' first Christmases, that otherwise might have only been shared with close family. And I got the moment-by-moment updates of Christmas dinners gone wrong across the nation via Twitter.
Technology is quick to evolve and teach us know methods of connection, but it is really the people that apply that tool to connect with the people we care about -- and I think we are better for it.
Image Source -- Justinsomnia.org