In the world of people native to digital media, many concerns have arisen that relationships will suffer and not be what they used to be. Sure, communication platforms have changed, but does that really mean it’s for the worse? Social media has created a communication platform unlike any before. We have the opportunity to be constantly connected to friends and family no matter how far away. There has to be a balance of online and offline communication, but social media has positively impacted our relationships regardless.
According to Mark Knapp’s Communication Model, there are many stages to a relationship. In the digital world, these stages have stayed the same but look different than before. Some of the stages are done via social media or dating sites. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a friendship or romantic relationship, these stages are crucial, and social media has actually helped with them.
The stages of coming together are initiation, experimentation, intensifying, integration and bonding. In our digital age, these stages look different but still follow the same guidelines.
The initiation stage can look different in a digital age. Instead of waiting to run into the person before we engage in a conversation, we have the opportunity to start a conversation via text message, Facebook message or post. It’s the same concept on engaging for the first time.
Experimentation is the point in the communication processes where people try to find common interests and hobbies. This step has changed from asking somewhat awkward questions to checking the person’s Facebook profile and finding similar likes and then starting conversations. Sometimes this can be helpful because people use social media to express a part of their identity.
Chris Poole, founder of about.me and Canvas, spoke at the Web 2.0 Summit about social media and creating identity. Because of social media, people express themselves in different ways on different sites or apps. All of these give people the opportunity to really figure out whom they are and express themselves accordingly. Because of their strengthened identities, people have an easier time expressing themselves.
Being able to express identities more openly buffers the next stage: intensifying. The intensifying stage is where people start to interact more than usual, intentionally spending more time together. Now in the digital age, this is where people start to text more, maybe start to interact on social media more with each other, “liking” more Instagram or Facebook posts, or “favoriting” more tweets.
In 2008, Pei-Luen Patrick Rau, Qin Gao and Yinan Ding wrote in the science journal Computers in Human Behavior that “Social networking sites expect to gratify social-emotional needs rather than informational needs, and they are connected in a person-to-person manner, which is more direct and interpersonal.” This means that the “like” you get from a friend satisfies an emotional need and actually helps with your face-to-face communication.
Integration is the stage of self-disclosure, the most important stage of any relationship. For any relationship, integration is where people share secrets with each other. Self-disclosure works differently in the digital age. So in this stage it’s important to be open. A Primer Communication study stated that self-disclosing through social media has its advantages, such as feeling like you have more control over the situation. You can choose your words carefully and don’t have to face the immediate reaction of the other person. This can be helpful if you think the reaction will be negative.
Bonding is the final stage of the communication model. It’s the stage where people “go public” with their relationship. This is where people put a label on their relationships: the public DTR. In the social media world, this is when lovers could become “Facebook official.”
The processes have stayed the same through the years but have just changed the way they work. If balanced correctly with offline communication, online communication isn’t hurting relationships. People try to hide behind failed relationships by blaming social media, but balanced social media can help take the pressures off by allowing you full control of how people perceive you.
Common Sense Media conducted research on teens and how social media has impacted their relationships. Based on their studies, they recorded that teens said that being active on social media made them feel more confident and outgoing. Twenty-nine percent said they felt less shy when interacting with people they were connected with on social media.
Social media can help you connect with a broader variety of people, including people in different countries, and you can be connected at all times of the day. Social media has changed the way we communicate. Yes, there have been botched relationships due to social media, but there were botched relationships prior to social media. If done right, social media can change the way we communicate —and not for the worse.
Celina Kituku is a senior journalism major.