Sunday, August 29, 2010
The evolution of SNS has given the fast-paced global society a way to plug-in and feel connected to family that are down the street or scattered around the globe, to busy friends, friends of friends, and to new relationships that share common interests.
Multiple studies have been done and many more are in the works on the effects of SNS in our society. Despite dire predictions from naysayers who warned that spending too much time online would be damaging to real-life relationships, the opposite appears to be true. Many researchers agree that for the most part, being part of a social network is good for you. For example, a recent study in Scientific American Mind finds that social support and social networking offer benefits, from additional resilience to greater life satisfaction to reducing the risk of health problems. Other studies in the past two years have found that feeling like a part of a larger group helps in stroke recovery and memory retention and boosts overall well-being.
In my earlier life, I studied to be a psychologist and I distinctly remember Gestalt therapy (GT), which focuses on the individual’s experience in the present moment, the environmental and social contexts of a person's life, and the self-regulating adjustments people make as a result of their overall situation. Reflecting on this, I see that it fits the actions taken on the SNS. SNS sites allow the individual to provide a “status update” which is the present moment in the Gestalt therapy, allowing one to express whatever is happening to them at the time, releasing both positive and negative thoughts. Feedback from readers provide a way for the individual to monitor, gage, and reflect on their status update, and sometimes adjust, self-regulating adjustment in GT, and learn from the feedback.
Social networking sites offer "three degrees of influence" — that is, your friend’s friend's friend, most likely someone you don't even know — who may indirectly influence your actions and emotions. For example, when a friend starts exercising more, you may examine your own exercise regimen and decided that you need to start exercising more. When you share your new status update that you’ve joined a gym you may also be influencing others to do the same. You either change your behavior or you transmit information about the behavior to others, who may change their behavior.
Another aspect of SNS is the fact that it has ushered in a new kind of extroversion, in which people who might be shy or uneasy in traditional social settings can express themselves online. People seemed to feel less threatened to state exactly what is on their mind as a general status update, than they would if they were in a real-time face to face encounter. This is one of the areas that those opposed to SNS have a problem. In one sense it is allowing the person to express themselves freely, but at the same time it is weakening the real-time relationship skills required for building intimate relationships.
With everything considered, I believe that SNS is a positive influence on society. Interestingly, it develop in a time in our lives where we most need to connect to one another. Uncertainties on a global level, separation of family and friends, and the highest level of anxiety that has ever existed, are eased by being able to connect and share our lives with those that we care about. Each person has the freedom and right to communicate, or not. Best of all you can “unplug” or not respond if you don’t like it.
More reading on the subject: