Why Social Media is Ruining Your Relationships

Consider social media’s role in modern life, its ability to mold relationships, and how it impacts an individual’s self-image.


How would you define a friend? Is it someone you could turn to no matter what? Just call my name and I’ll be there? Or is it someone who you’re in near-constant contact with, speaking to all day, every day? Is it the person you’ve got the longest “Snapstreak” (chatted on Snapchat for over three days straight) with? How much one-on-one time do you have together? And what are your conversations like – deeply engaged and empathetic, or more interrupted and punctuated into bite-size snippets?

The impact that social media is having on all of our relationships, spanning our families, friends and romantic couplings to our very relationships with ourselves, has been fundamentally altered by the way we use our devices to communicate with each other. What we now need from our networks is in flux, and the very nature of friendship and the foundations on which we believe they should be based have changed almost beyond recognition. The question is: is social media enhancing our social lives, or is it doing the exact opposite?

Humans are by definition social beings. From a genetic perspective, we have evolved to live in social groups for both protection and reproduction. Being social makes us buoyant: connection to a group makes us happier; social exchanges reduce the stress hormone cortisol, while simultaneously raising feel-good oxytocin and serotonin. Being social is basically like biological crack – so is it any wonder that we’ve become so very quickly, so very deeply infatuated with social media?

“As humans, we thrive by building relationships. It’s very primordial. Social media plays right into what really makes us tick as human beings,” explains Dr James A Roberts, a professor in marketing and an expert on digital consumer behaviour. And who can argue? Logging on to read thoughtful comments and messages from friends, seeing what loved ones are busy getting up to and reading insightful stories which make us feel connected to our digital tribe can create an instant sense of belonging.

It can also relieve any feelings of loneliness and reduce the geographical differences between us that are part of modern lifestyles. But it’s no panacea and the very reasons that it’s so seductive have also become causes for concern. “As relationships are so important to us, there’s an argument that the more we use social media, the better. But that’s only if we’re actively interacting with other people – sending messages and pictures and connecting,” Dr Roberts continues. “But really what we’re finding is that much of social media use is passive, characterized by ‘lurking’ or ‘creeping’. We’re spending hours not actually socializing, but merely viewing other people, consuming sanitized, best case scenarios of each other’s lives. Instead of the feel-good hormones we might expect to be pumping through our veins instead, we’re torn between feelings of FOMO and inadequacy.”

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