Personal Essay

For my final project, I initially wanted to research how social media has changed the way we interact with society. In my proposal, I chose to explore social media in relation to news consumption in America. However, after more thought, I decided it would be more interesting and focused to study the transformation of relationships in the digital age.

Social media and other digital norms have an everyday impact on my relationships with friends, family, and others. One obvious benefit in the digital age is the ability to communicate with people across a distance. I live in Atlanta and my family lives in the Northeast, throughout New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. When I first moved into college, my mom told me that she could not imagine how her parents sent her to college without today’s technology. Without cell phones, there was no texting, calling, or Facetime. She went to college and simply did not see her family until she was home. But today, I talk to my family “face-to-face” every day, even though we are miles apart. This makes being far from home significantly easier and helps maintain my relationships with my family. In an article from the Huffington Post, one mother agrees.

With my friends, I have experienced a huge shift in the way we communicate. When I was in elementary school, I remember my friends calling my house landline to talk or ask for plans. The only other way we communicated was through AIM’s instant message or most of the time, in person. By the time we entered middle school, texting became the new first-line of communication, easily replacing instant message and phone calls, Our conversations became noticeably generic — “hey,” “what’s up,” “nothing much, u?” I began to learn the language of communicating via digital platforms.

As I began to use social media, my relationships became objective in this digital and public space. Facebook began to confuse the concept of “friends.” I have almost 1,400 friends on Facebook, but can count on two hands the ones I talk to in person every day. The beginnings of social media made me increasingly concerned about what my friends were doing and sparked a new need to share my life with a broader group. I would update my Facebook status or tweet about even my most mundane activities — “doing homework :(” or “going to practice!”

More recently, Snapchat has rapidly altered communication, particularly for relationships. Snapchat was designed for one-on-one communication, unlike other social media platforms. Although it is similar to texting in that way, Snapchat is temporary. It eliminated the idea that what you put on the internet is permanent. In addition, like Facebook puts a number on friendships, Snapchat puts a number on relationships by introducing streaks. I can definitely acknowledge the silliness of maintaining a streak, but the ability of that to send a message in terms of relationships shows how communication has transformed in the digital age.

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These changes in communication I have experienced since childhood are noticeably impacting today’s experience of dating. The rise of dating apps, like Tinder and Bumble, emphasize how communication has changed in terms of language. When you meet someone in person, body language or eye contact can be equally as important as what you say. However, that is eliminated on dating apps. Similar to texting or Snapchat, the language used within each app is learned, along with its established norms. Dating apps rely on the creation and exhibition of a certain image. With your Facebook and Instagram account already doing so, this is easy to portray. There exists an entirely different dating world than what existed before the digital age.

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While these developments have had positive and negative effects in my personal experience, it will be interesting to examine how these trends in communication have changed relationships and particularly, the experience of dating.