ENG 110 – Millard
Relationships through Social Media
I value being a friend to as many people as I can be. Being a friend to someone should be rewarding for both parties. A healthy friendship is one where both sides benefit, neither person should feel bad, ashamed, or annoyed with the things they do around the other. In my experience, you must be vulnerable with someone to form a deep and meaningful relationship. With the rise in use of social media, being vulnerable with someone has become rare and very challenging for many people. We are limited in the connections that we can make online because no one has to expose the parts of their lives they don’t want you to see. Face to face interactions are the only way to create a lasting and meaningful bond with someone. Maria Konnikova expresses her agreement with this sentiment in her piece, “The Limits of Friendship,” explaining how social media has a negative effect on friendships. It’s still important to recognize that social media can have some positives. Adrian Chen realizes this in his writing “Unfollow,” where he examines the life of Megan Phelps-Roper, and the impact social media has had on her. Our world will continue to rely more and more upon the internet and social media to be connected, but because of how social media limits our ability to make connections, I believe that the closest friends and strongest relationships are made through in person interactions.
Being a friend means sharing experiences with someone together, in person. You can’t have a true friendship over social media. Someone who shares my ideas about friendships and social media is author of “The Limits of Friendship,” Maria Konnikova. Konnikova believes the positives of interpersonal relationships far outweigh those of social media and online relationships. In her writing “The Limits of Friendship,” Konnikova writes, “one of the things that keeps face-to-face friendships strong is the nature of shared experience: you laugh together; you dance together; you gape at the hot-dog eaters on Coney Island together. We do have a social media equivalent… but it lacks the synchronicity of shared experience.”(Konnikova, 257) I know that this statement is true, because I have lived it. I can think back to countless memories with friends, and the ones that stick out the most, and the ones I am the most fond of, are those that happened in person. I love playing video games with my friends online, but most of those memories become lost, forgotten, or jumbled all into one. I can remember specific times of playing with my brother and my friends in my backyard when I was six or seven years old. We would chase each other around the yard, ultimately jumping in the pool to cool off. If you were to ask me to remember whose post I liked on Instagram just yesterday, I would struggle to think of the answer. Konnikova believes that we lack the ability to create deep connections over social media. My experiences support her claim, and her thoughts leave me wondering whether I should change the way I use social media.
The impacts of social media are not always negative, writer Adrian Chen explores this in his work “Unfollow,” the story of Megan Phelps-Roper and her introduction to the online world. Phelps-Roper, raised in a religious family that has some severely racist, xenophobic, and religiously discriminatory beliefs, clearly did not have the best influences during her childhood. Through her discovery and use of social media, Phelps-Roper was able to discover the impact her beliefs had on people, and why some people had different opinions than her. Chen quotes Phelps-Roper saying, “It was like I was becoming part of a community….I was beginning to see them as human.” (Chen, 81) In this instance, Phelps-Roper is becoming a member of a new online community, where she can interact with people she never would have had the chance to previously. I think this case is an outlier, and there is not strong enough evidence to prove that social media can be a good way to make deep and meaningful connections with people. Phelps-Roper had never been able to have long conversations with anyone that had different beliefs than her and her family. Her experience with new people online was going to open her eyes, no matter who she met because of her insane world views. This was also during the very beginning of social media and Twitter, the app referenced in “Unfollow.” The social media landscape has changed dramatically since then, and anything more than a nice person to chat with is hard to find. Nonetheless, Phelps-Roper made connections with people online that were real and lasting. The people she met even helped her learn the harm she was unintentionally causing. Chen shows us how she changed some of her habits because of the people she met online, “In Phelps-Roper’s effort to better understand Westboro’s new prophecies, she had bought a copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism,” but found it more profitable to just ask Abitbol her questions.” (Chen, 81) Phelps-Roper had started independent research to come to her own conclusions about certain topics because of her conversations with people online. In this instance, social media helped someone meet new people, and ultimately do something positive.
Social media is a tool that we must learn to use effectively in the future. These two articles provide key insights into the world of social media. It is obvious that social media has become a major influence in many people’s lives, and whether it is positive or negative is left to be determined. I know that social media will continue to be a part of my life, so I know that I cannot let it become something that hurts my academic, personal, or extracurricular goals. As Konnikova puts it, “If we’re busy putting in the effort, however minimal, to “like” and comment and interact with an ever-widening network, we have less time and capacity left for our closer groups.” (Konnikova, 257) The main worry I have about my use of social media is how it will impact my relationships with the friends I already have. There are times when I find myself using social media rather than be present with the people I am with. Missing out on these interactions and experiences is not something that I want to happen. We don’t know how social media will grow and evolve as we travel further into the future; we must be up for the challenge of learning and evolving with it, so that we can manage the time we spend on it.
Konnikova and I share the opinion that the growing use of social media could spell trouble for the younger generations, who are being introduced to technology earlier and earlier. She cites Robin Dunbar when expressing her fears of the future, “We learn how we are and aren’t supposed to act by observing others and then having opportunities to act out our observations ourselves. We aren’t born with full social awareness, and Dunbar fears that too much virtual interaction may subvert that education.” (Konnikova, 259) I have two cousins under the age of seven, seeing them using their iPads and working a Smart TV puts these concerns into perspective. I think about them entering school and meeting new kids, the experiences that they have had growing up are drastically different from mine. Dunbar continues by saying “It’s quite conceivable that we might end up less social in the future, which would be a disaster because we need to be more social—our world has become so large.” (Konnikova, 259) Being able to communicate and converse with people should not be a rare trait in the future. Discrimination, racism, and prejudice are a result of a lack of communication and understanding with those different from yourself, especially at a young age. If social media will take away communication skills from the next generation, making it harder for them to make friends and meet new people, it could expand the divides that already exist even further.
Making friends and meeting new people will always be a part of life. It doesn’t matter what social media becomes in the future, this will still be true. If we combine what we learned from Maria Konnikova and Adrien Chen, the easier it will be to navigate social media in the future. Adrien Chen helps us realize that being open-minded and learning about other people’s cultures and customs is vital to being a positive member in your community. Through his exploration of Megan Phelps-Roper’s life, he shows us how social media can be a great tool for us to use to accomplish this. Konnikova makes it clear that social media has many dangers, and we should be wary of our use of it. With her analysis of Robin Dunbar’s work, we learn that “with a light brush on the shoulder, a pat, or a squeeze of the arm or hand, we can communicate a deeper bond than through speaking alone.” (Konnikova, 258) The benefits of face-to-face interactions are clear. Being with your friends in person is, and always will be, the best way to form deep bonds and lasting connections.
The ability to have and show empathy is a great skill. Like any skill, it is something that can be learned about and improved upon with practice, time, and effort. Being able to understand and share the emotions of another person, see through their perspective, and realize the situation that they are in is critical to the human experience. David Foster Wallace and Sherry Turkle both agree that people are becoming less empathetic. They both realize the impact that technology and the stresses of life and work are having on our abilities to show empathy to one another. There is a great fear that we as people are losing touch with each other and becoming less connected. Both David Foster Wallace and Sherry Turkle advocate for ideas they believe will help us be more empathetic. The ability to escape from technology is one of the greatest threats to empathy today, even with all of the great things we can do with our phones and laptops, we cannot afford to lose the tool we use to make human-to-human connections. Empathy has not been lost in our society, even given the many challenges, empathy will continue to live on in future generations.
Author of “The Empathy Diaries” Sherry Turkle has many fears for the future of empathy and more specifically human conversation. One of her main concerns is the relatively recent introduction of technology into society, or more specifically the instant access to technologies like phones, tablets, and laptops that are always within an arm’s reach. She says in her essay “We have arrived at another moment of recognition. This time, technology is implicated in an assault on empathy. We have learned that even a silent phone inhibits conversations that matter. The very sight of a phone on the landscape leaves us feeling less connected to each other, less invested in each other” (Turkle, 379). According to Turkle, technology and cellphones are having a large impact on human connectedness, limiting our ability to relate to and talk with each other. It seems that people are “forever elsewhere” always looking towards their phone when they are bored or unsure of what to do. This phenomenon is scary and ultimately can have huge negative impacts on our way of life. Once we start limiting our human interactions, everything from empathy, compassion, happiness, fulfillment, understanding, and overall love for each other will greatly decline.
Empathy is necessary to live a fulfilling and rewarding life. Everyone deserves empathy, and it is easy to give to people. Of course, many will probably disagree on the grounds that some people do not deserve empathy based on their history and the things they have done. Some might say that a criminal or someone who has committed a heinous act does not deserve empathy from anyone. I believe that showing empathy to a person like this is one of the things that separates you from them. It proves that you are a capable and caring person, no matter what.
Both David Foster Wallace and Sherry Turkle agree that empathy unlocks a greater way of living and understanding. However, they argue about the causes of the apparent decline in empathy in recent years. In his speech “This Is Water” David Foster Wallace explains that human nature and our natural self-centeredness is the main obstacle in showing empathy for others. He argues that we are all “programmed” to think about ourselves first. According to David Foster Wallace, learning how to think through a liberal arts education will help you avoid becoming trapped in a self-centered mindset. He says, “learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience” (Wallace, 5). For David Foster Wallace, being able to choose how you think and escape from the self-centered mindset is the key to unlocking the perspective of others and being able to show empathy. In contrast, it is clear that Sherry Turkle thinks that the lack of empathy caused by technology and social media has had the greatest impact on people, and their ability to converse and connect with others. She says in her writing “The Empathy Diaries” that conversation and communication are changing because of technology and that without conversation we lose much of our compassion and perspective. According to Turkle, “We are forever elsewhere,” meaning that with technology we have a quick and easy escape from anything happening in the real world. Our phones allow us to ignore what someone is saying and avoid something that we don’t want to take part in. While I can agree that technology and phones have had a significant impact on our way of life and how we communicate, I still find that learning how to change your own way of thinking as David Foster Wallace suggests is the most vital tool you need to see someone’s perspective besides your own. While technology limits the conversations we have, a self-centered mindset takes away all ability to ever be able to show empathy for someone.
Maria Konnikova author of “The Limits of Friendship” has a similar opinion to Turkle on how technology affects conversations and social lives. She writes about how social media and online relationships are weaker than those of in-person friendships. Turkle says that “From the early days, I saw that computers offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship and then, as the programs got really good, the illusion of friendship without the demands of intimacy” (Turkle, 381). Turkle knows just as Konnikova does that technology severely limits our ability to connect with others and form meaningful connections. They realize that to foster empathy in our younger generations, it might be necessary to limit their access to technology or teach them how to use it more effectively. Konnikova says in her piece “With social media, we can easily keep up with the lives and interests of far more than a hundred and fifty people. But without investing the face-to-face time, we lack deeper connections to them, and the time we invest in superficial relationships comes at the expense of more profound ones” (Konnikova, 257). I agree with both Konnikova and Turkle on their opinions of how technology affects conversations and relationships. I know from personal experience how technology has affected my life, and through those experiences, it is clear that technology can be very harmful to one’s ability to show empathy and compassion for others.
After reading Konnikova, Turkle, and listening to David Foster Wallace, I know that empathy is critical to living and being a productive member of society, but there are numerous threats to limiting the future of empathy and people’s ability to connect with one another. I know that empathy will continue to persevere and be present in people as we move forward into a world with a greater presence of technology. Through my own personal experiences, I know that technology can have some negative effects, but with proper limitations and guidelines, it is possible for technology to be a mostly positive way to connect with people. Empathy is a skill that everyone can learn and use, and I know that empathy will not be lost. We must persevere as a society and culture to keep being empathetic towards each other, choose how we think, and see perspectives besides our own, by doing this we are improving not only our own lives but everyone around us as well.
Identifying with a Community
Self-expression is something that is important to me, and often near the top of my mind. Being able to express myself and be comfortable with who I am around other people is important to me, and I think that everyone should be able to do the same without fear of judgment or stereotypes. Expressing yourself helps you to form an identity within your community. Allowing other people to see who you are and what you identify with is the best way to become accepted into a community. If finding people with similar interests as you and common ideals is important, then you should express yourself and share with others your identity. Identity, self-expression, and stereotyping are all main ideas of two pieces of writing by authors Michael Chabon and Roxane Gay. Michael Chabon describes to us the life and uniqueness of his child Abe in his essay “My Son the Prince of Fashion.” Roxane Gay explores stereotypes and identity regarding feminism and women’s rights in her essay “Bad Feminist.” Both essays articulate an opinion on identity and stereotypes, bringing us into the lives of someone who is struggling with both of these concepts. With both writings and my knowledge of the concept, it can be understood that forming a personal identity lets you live a more fulfilling life.
Identity is the ticket into a welcoming community of people who share the same passions and ideals as you. Without an identity, others will not know who you are or what you stand for, and more importantly, you will not be able to understand yourself. A great example of someone who understood themself, and found their community by showing the courage to express their identity with everyone, was Michael Chabon’s son Abe whom we learn about in “My Son the Prince of Fashion.” Abe is a young boy who has a great passion for clothing and fashion, so much so that he wears formal clothing to middle school. His father, acclaimed writer Michael, describes Abe’s ability to embrace being different when he says “It was always Abe’s rare gift not just to stand out, and bear up, but to do those things with panache. And the way in which he expressed his difference most reliably, and with the greatest panache, was through dressing up” (Chabon, 65). It is obvious that Abe is not a “normal” boy, meaning that he isn’t following the classic stereotypes of a boy who plays sports and wears athletic clothes and doesn’t care for fashion in the slightest. Because of this, Abe is subject to bullying and stereotyping from his peers in class. Abe’s passion for fashion was so strong, and his desire and determination to find other like-minded people with whom he could share his love for passion was so great, that he never let the bullying get to him. Chabon writes, “The teasing had never exceeded Abe’s ability or willingness to withstand it, or the joy that he derived from losing himself in clothes” (Chabon, 64). When you love something enough and have a great passion for it, then you never let anyone else get in the way of that love. This is what we are seeing here with Abe. Fashion and clothing are what makes him happiest, and no one can take that away from him.
I can relate to this feeling that Abe has of being lost and without a community very closely. A huge passion of mine that is on par with Abe’s passion for clothing is motorsports and auto racing. It is still a mystery to me why I fell in love with the sport of racing, similar to Abe, no one in my family had ever shown any interest in it before me. My parents were just as confused as Michael Chabon was when they realized how much this passion of mine meant to me. Looking back on my time in middle and high school, I realize that some of my experiences are very similar to those that Abe had. Growing up in New Hampshire, I was hard-pressed to find anyone who was interested in motorsports, let alone my friends in class. I have been the subject of teasing and been made fun of for what I like, not because they were trying to be mean but simply because they didn’t understand me or the thing I was most passionate about. It can be challenging to stay passionate about something when no one else around you seems to care about it, but just like Abe, the search for a community of people who share my passion is what motivates me. All I can do, just as Abe has done, is express myself and my identity, and eventually connect with more people that I can share my passion. Michael Chabon exemplifies how identity fits into community building when he closes his essay and makes a realization about his son that puts the rest of the story into a new perspective. “Abe had not been dressing up, styling himself, for all these years because he was trying to prove how different he was from everyone else. He did it in the hope of attracting the attention of somebody else – somewhere, someday – who was the same” (Chabon, 70). Being a member of a community is a great and fulfilling experience, you feel safe to express your truest self and you don’t have to fear stereotyping or anyone who won’t accept your identity as who you are. The search for a community is a part of everyone’s life journey, no matter who you are.
Michael Chabon’s essay is wildly different from the essay mentioned earlier by Roxane Gay titled “Bad Feminist.” In Gay’s writing, she focuses closely on stereotypes regarding feminism as well as her identity within her community with whom she identifies. Her ideas of bad feminism are very interesting and I believe have a connection to Abe and how he lives. Gay’s idea of being a bad feminist is about being a feminist, yet not following the stereotypes of feminism that most people expect you to. Feminism has become a term that many people are afraid to identify with because of stereotypes and assumptions about them that are generally false. Roxane considers herself a bad feminist because she supports feminism and women’s rights, but isn’t a perfect feminist and doesn’t dedicate her life to it. Roxane describes herself best when she says “Because I have so many deeply held opinions about gender equality, I feel a lot of pressure to live up to certain ideals. I am supposed to be a good feminist who is having it all, doing it all. Really, though, I’m a woman in her thirties, struggling to accept herself” (Gay, 168). This is a very powerful statement and is important for anyone struggling with identity to hear and understand. Abe, from Chabon’s essay, would be able to closely relate to this. When you realize that someone like Roxane Gay is still struggling with her identity well into her thirties, someone like Abe will feel a lot less pressure to fit in with a group of people right away.
It is clear Abe is yearning for a community that accepts him and relates to him, while Roxane fears being grouped into a community that she doesn’t relate to. This can often be something that many overlook. Stereotypes and biases can cause a lot of harm, grouping people together based on superficial observations without any other knowledge is harmful to all people involved. It causes unwanted hate and affects the victims’ lives for an indefinite amount of time. Gay considers herself a “bad” feminist because she does not want to be included in the stereotypical “feminist” group. Even though she is a feminist, the stereotypes around that word and the community are so strong and widespread that it has caused her to look elsewhere and separate herself from that group. It is important to remember that being a part of a community can go both ways. If you enjoy the community and identify with the people in it, then it is a great positive in your life, however, if you are grouped into a group or community against your will and do not relate with the people around you, then a community becomes a negative and disruptive thing in your life.
Both essays reveal to us the importance of self-expression. I have found in my own life just as Roxane and Abe have that self-expression leads to positives. Inclusion in a community is the most obvious one. It has been hard for me at certain points in my life to express myself and find a community. I believe this is something that many people can relate to, but that doesn’t make it any easier when you are in that position. No one enjoys being the odd one out, and most people enjoy being a part of a community, sharing interests, and relating to others. When, hopefully, you are able to connect with people and find a community, all the times you expressed yourself and allowed others to see who you are will have been worthwhile.