Communication Self Improvement — 02 December 2013
The magic of social media

Understanding the appeal, use and preoccupation of the younger generation with social media stymies some older adults. Some view it with wonderment, others with cynicism or even criticism.  Understanding the significance of this new form of relationship and its emotional benefits may help the doubting public appreciate this new method of human connectedness.

With the advent of modern technology, “Generation Y”, those born between the mid-1970’s and the early 2000’s, have grown up in the computerized era and experienced the birth of the Internet. The new technologies offer swift interpersonal communication tools that facilitate people’s access to each other and the world at a dazzling speed.

In “Online Communication and Adolescent Relationships” Kaverl Subrahmanya and Patricia Greenfield found that “Adolescents use the internet as their major tool for cementing relationships and instant messaging as a substitute to face-to-face interactions.”

Jaclyn Cabral found that “Generation Y is unconsciously addicted to social media and feel constant societal pressure to be connected to their peers through technology. Their connectedness is creating new kinds of peer-to-peer relationships that are considerably different from previous generations.”

Some adult observers ponder about youngsters’ intensity, frequency and dependency upon these new, technology-driven ways as possibly addictive and less than healthy. Australian Epidemiologist Lawrence Lam found that “High stress events were related to the advent of Internet addiction, possibly as a stress reducer. Participants who reported having been more addicted to the Internet to start were 2.5 times more likely to be depressed than those who did not feel so tied to their computers.”

Cherly Gordon identified the five purposes of Internet use as: “Meeting people, Information seeking, Distraction, Coping and e-mail.” Gordon and other researchers also determined that Internet addiction more commonly affects male students.

Whether Internet texting or social media use is an addiction or not, its frequent and repetitive use appears to be compelling and intensely rewarding to the user. Students who were asked to abstain form communicating with their friends during an experiment found this abstinence very distressing and isolating.

In “Internet Addiction: Debating the Diagnosis” Jennifer Czincz and Regina Hechanova hypothesized that “The ambiguity of social network profiles allows adolescents to create an identity and find social acceptability without having to rely on face-to-face interpersonal skills.”

Having friends on line provides the ongoing reassurance that one is included, liked and belongs to a group that finds him/her a valuable friend. It allows all participants to feel that they matter, are popular, and can use this support system in resolving issues in a less threatening way. Even if the face-to-face connection can be more profound, the psychological benefits of inclusiveness, belonging and connectedness far outweigh the possible losses involved.

Support Internet relationships:

  • Accept that Generation Y’s interpersonal connections are different, but not necessarily inferior to prior generations’ styles.
  • Beware of labeling the need to matter and be responded to by friends as an addiction.
  • Accept the benefits of the new ways of relating as valid, helpful, supportive and inclusive.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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