“The Most Dangerous phrase in the language is “We’ve always done it this way.”
So what happens when Big Data sheds a light onto our behaviors online?
Musings on relationships in the social media era.
By Stephanie Fraide
“It is the small glimpse at a person’s personality that build the fundamentals for a relationship,” Susanna Gebauer, writer for Social Media Marketers, explains. The bits and bytes of our lives we thoughtfully share on social media allow others to engage in the forms of likes, comments and even sharing emoticons. Our behavior is rewarded by acceptance and encouragement from our friend’s social media engagement. We strengthen the image of ourselves by posting similar behavior that garners more attention. Anyone who has ever started a workout program and shared their progress on social media knows that the encouragement from your friends can be the motivation to keep going. You may even begin to attract like minded people in the community through hashtags and groups. You soon become the person you’re posting about online.
Big Data offers us behavioral logs (often with borderline frightening and pinpointed accuracy) with insight to the societal stopgaps we use as coping methods for undesired behavior. We are then able to alter our behavior in ways we have never dreamed possible. Hospitals, which have struggled with loud noise levels for decades, are finally analyzing Big Data and eliminating unnecessary sound to create a better experience for both patients and hospital workers.
So what’s this have to do with romantic relationships?
Modern day technologies and advancement has given us the ability to choose a partner based on shared values and interests rather than societal gain or family traditions. This is conscious choice while finding ourselves in a world of audience fragmentation and seemingly endless options. Some believe the very act of choice is the catalyst for the ability to nurture the most rewarding relationship possible in time. Hold onto this thought because we’ll get back to choice in a moment . . .
What’s the harm in liking someone’s photo anyways? Unfortunately, there are no shortage of stories, on and offline, which depict a neurotic partner, often female, inquiring about a partner’s online behavior and tendencies. Most of us have experienced this story in one form or another, girlfriends asking each other, “Why did he have to like that girl’s selfie? And why does he feel the need to follow her just because she liked his photo?” The more direct and more complex, “Why is your new co-worker suddenly posting provocative poses on her social accounts since you started follower her?” Or, “She met this guy at a party and now they’re “BFF” on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat,” he tells his friends. It is natural to take a defensive stance to aggressive accusations, but could there be something more than your partner being psycho?
Transparency in social media has allowed to us a never before seen view at the behaviors between ourself and our peers. It’s not that these behaviors previously didn’t exist, but for the first time we can see them in front of our eyes. Old rules and acceptance of certain behaviors have been brought to light and they’re not going anywhere. This isn’t limited to romantic situations either, The NYTimes February article, “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life” is a testament to a new standard of accountability online. This is actual human behavior, not the edited version we’ve told ourselves and our loved ones. And we’re beginning to regulate social standards which have been swept aside.
After developing an uncanny, and off the record, ability to predict future relationships and break-ups, my positive view of social began to wear off. Social media was no longer fun. I saw “mate poachers” manipulate their ways into my friend’s relationships, I lost respect for seemingly good people in committed relationships acting in questionable ways online. When I sought advice from older married friends I kept hearing the term, “It’s not that big of a deal.” And “that’s just how it is.” I tried to explain this is different, the “fantasy” has the ability to talk back! When I sought advice from friends my age they recounted similar stories. The graveness of this social predicament was brought to my attention when my sister, 13.5 years my junior, called me and asked my advice about the very same situation! I set my accounts to private and didn’t feel the desire to participate in such a grim world . . . It didn’t last long, anyone who has tried to disconnect from Facebook quickly realizes what a lonely world this place can be without it.
Mindful mediation. In my six years, almost seven years, of working in social media, meditation has become a vital component for a healthy mindset. When I logged off from Facebook I began reading old texts to help me understand and explore the depths of human emotion, attraction, and desire to share with one another. I meditated more. As I researched its effects on the human mind I began to read studies about how meditation can change your DNA. I began thinking if thoughts literally have the power to alter the pathways in our brain and overcome seemingly impossible obstacles, then there must be a correlation between staying off the opposite sex’s Instagram feeds (no matter how gorgeous or hunky they are, or “we’re just friends” BS you’re telling yourself when you’ve never met them and they live halfway across the world) and cultivating your own mind’s garden, your own relationship.
What benefits are you receiving from the relationships you find nurturing online? Does it reflect your deeper values? Does it match with the image of success in your mind? We are creating a powerful message and setting the tone for present and future relationships. Each interaction is a data point, which overtime, will tell the story of your mind’s desires.
Our gift is choice. It is okay to want to experience the wonderfulness of new people in a romantic way in which technology offers us. It’s part of the reason 1 out of 5 relationships today start online. It is also okay to set boundaries on acceptable behaviors when committing yourself in a relationship. What is important is the awareness of our actions, our choice. I am beginning to view the trend to settle down later in life as a testament to the weight and responsibility we carry with this new gift. Who wants to settle, and frankly, who needs to?
I leave you with a phrase from one of the oldest religions in the world for your future interactions on social: “Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta” (Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds).
February 14th, 2015