“What’s your Favourite Colour of Jelly Bean?”

Disclosure: This blog is based on genuine experience… Unfortunately.

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Recently the fate of circumstance led me to dive into the world of online dating – or more accurately, social media dating. Downloading Tinder was really more of a choice to boost personal morale (spoiler alert!) than a serious effort to meet ‘that special someone’, but I quickly learned this love-to-hate-but-still-a-secret-addiction app brougtinder_blog_image1ht about all kinds of unusual behaviour from my social circle. Within a matter of days, I had friends telling me how ‘great it was because the people on it aren’t overly desperate’, or ‘how it was just a hook up app’, or how ‘there are hilarious one-liners that have 100% success rate of response’ (one of which inspired the title of this article). But what amazed me was the way in which social interaction is manipulated and the boundaries of appropriate social commentary are altered by the virtual world.

So has face-to-face interaction lost its value? Or are people just becoming increasingly comfortable and perhaps even more connected on a personal level through social media platforms? Research shows that, unsurprisingly, when people are looking to meet a dating partner for the first time, they will adjust their self-presentation and behaviour to what they think that potential partner desires (Ellison et al., 417). But further research puts forward that with this ideal image, we also feel the need to present our authentic self; this is what creates a foundation for intimacy in our relationships. Now while it could be argued that our genuine and true nature can be expressed in an online environment, do we not communicate primarily through body language? How can you truly establish intimacy without knowing someone’s mannerisms? Or to a greater extent, how can you do something as simple as practice the art of flirtation through touch?

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What Tinder has revolutionized is the simplification of the social process of dating. Just like Google Maps eliminated our need for paper maps and Facebook messages provided an alternative to sending postcards, Tinder has broken down dating to its skin and bones. A name, an age, some carefully selected photos, and perhaps a sentence or two. With that we form a split second decision of if this person is a love match. In a Huffington Post article, Joshua Pompey argues we’ve been ‘Tinder-ing’ since the beginning of time – after all, isn’t it an initial physical attraction that drives us to approach a love interest in any public setting? Perhaps yes, but the follow-up is what throws this theory off (an opening liner in a bar or café of ‘how hot you look’ or ‘hey sexy’ is more likely to send you running than engaging in a deep and meaningful conversation).

Beyond the endlessly complex world of dating, social media has brought about a new kind of social addiction. It’s called ‘Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD)’, according to a 2012 study by the National Institutes of Health. It works like many other addictions: we get a good feeling when we’re engaging with it, and a bad feeling when we’re not (which blogger Jason Thibeault assumes is related to a dose of Dopamine that our body rewards us with when we’re using it and craves when we’re not). In short, we become a narcissistic version of ourselves that thrives off the approval – or ‘Likes’ – of other users. This behaviour can arguably be applied to the world of Tinder: when we get a match, that self-gratifying feeling kicks in for a short moment and perpetuates a desire to experience it over and over again. So is Tinder really about dating then? Or is it about fulfilling a certain personal desire or emotional need? Perhaps it can be a blurred line between these two ideas, but like any social media, it is always essential that we are the moderators of the app – not the other way around.

Needless to say, my venture on Tinder ended almost as fast as it began. As connected as I am to the constant online flow of information, I’ll leave the real social relationships to exactly how they should flourish – in reality.

Ellison, N. et al. (2006). Managing impressions online: Self-Presentation Processes in the Online Dating Environment. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 415-441.

CBS News article on ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-real-a-risk-is-social-media-addiction/

A Guardian article on Tinder as the millennial dating method:
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/nov/23/tinder-shallowest-dating-app-ever

 

 

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A Generation of ‘Internet-Interactors’ or Back to Our Roots?

I have always considered myself to be a social person – I think. Okay, perhaps social media, texting, and cell phone obsession have consumed my generation, but that only really took off in my early teens, so I clearly learned social skills prior to this evolution. Right?

socialmedia_blogpostThe debate of social interaction and the upcoming generation’s ability to be active and comfortable to person-to-person interaction has been prominent in academia, to the point that personally I’ve never found it particularly fascinating. The other day, however, I had a business networking meeting. As per usual protocol, I immediately stood up and shook their hand. After being led into an office and casually discussing career goals and the typical sum of a professional background, the person commented that I presented well. I was obviously glad to have a complement, and they followed by pointing out they could immediately tell I had strong interpersonal skills by my handshake. Sorry? I had no idea that my fate of a good impression had already been sealed in the first thirty seconds. They proceeded to show me what they often received – a flimsy, limp noodle handshake that inconspicuously read ‘I couldn’t care less’. It led me to wonder if this really was the truth of my generation. Are we so consumed by our digital lives that we’ve lost the instinct and knowledge of body language?

In the Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs, Curry (2002) suggests that the key to understanding shifts in social interaction is to consider the interconnection between technologies available for communication and representation and the method by which people conceptualize space and place (p.503). Slater (2002) furthers this notion by describing the advancements of new media from older forms of digital interaction. He states:

“…the focus moved from the virtual as simulation to the virtual of coherent social space, and one in which new rules and ways of being and relating could emerge precisely because of the separation from the constraints of the ‘really real’. We can flesh this out through the remaining three terms: spatiality, disembedding and disembodiment.”(p.534)

When we take into consideration our interpretation of space and place, how do we then define our virtual selves? Do we feel a sense of place and space through our Facebook page? Is Facebook Messenger a so-called ‘place’ and ‘space’ of interaction in the same sense a coffee shop or that office I was in might be? In a sense, we could push this statement to say that our computers or more specifically the Internet holds a plethora of spaces and places. These ‘realities’ however are constructed through a series of programming mechanisms. In a simple scenario, consider what happens when you restore your backed up hard drive onto your computer; everything is restored to how it was one month ago, for example. Now, obviously this functions differently on the uber-intelligent Internet, but imagine this also applied to all of your social media accounts. How does this coordinate with your actual reality? Does it create a type of friction or conflict? In essence, it creates two separate realities of space and place. The difference though is in that the Internet and new media does not function in the linear manner through which real life unfolds.

This line of thought is just a minute part in the ambiguous debate of the effects of new media. Questions of identity, policy, freedoms of expression, etc. are all factors in the forming of digital social interaction. In many ways, pockets of society are reverting back to classic and humanized forms of interaction. The movement towards the tangible object for example, has reinvigorated the value of the object versus the digital copy. I would argue this phenomenon gives hope to the classic industries of publishing, music, and art. There is however an undeniable shift away from this and a growing obsession of the virtual.

Going back to the example of my business meeting, it became clear that the ability to socially interact face-to-face has now become a valuable asset. Whether this quality will diminish and eventually become extinct with new generations remains to be seen.

Lievrouw, L. and Livingstone, S. (Eds.)(2002). The Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and the Consequences of ICTs. London: Sage Publications.

 

Would the Real Account Holder Please Log On

image courtesy of: under30ceo.com, taken 6 Jan, 2014.

In today’s Western society, we are constantly connected. I know this sounds like an ambiguous statement, but let’s face it: it’s true. In a talk by Beeban Kidron, film director and producer, she stated that the average Brit looks at their phone 150 times per day. Whether it be checking up on the news, looking through your Facebook newsfeed or playing a quick game of Candy Crush, we as a society are addicts.

In my recent research, I was looking into online security and data protection, and a particular article caught my attention. The journalist looked at how easy it was to steal someone’s identity if given access to his or her Facebook account. The result? Far too easy. If you go into the settings menu in the top right corner of your page, click on Account Settings, select the General tab, there is an option to download your Facebook history. This is a log of every action – clicked or typed – that you’ve ever made in your time as a Facebook member. Search in the keyword bar and you can pull up any specific details that there may be. If you’ve ever sent someone your banking details through a message to transfer your money through online banking, if you’ve ever sent your address to your family, if you’ve ever had someone post on your wall wishing you a happy birthday; your personal details are all there and stealing someone’s identity is done at the click of a mouse. You know those times where you accidentally leave your account logged on in the library, in an internet café, or wherever in a public location, and someone puts an obnoxious post on your wall saying how silly you were to leave yourself logged on? You might want to think twice about whom your account is falling into the hands.

While there is obviously a law aspect to this issue – I’m not saying that identity theft is never condemned or never leads to prosecution – the EU is currently reforming this law, so that it can more easily apply to all member countries. One of the key features of the reform is that if an individual requests for their information to be erased/forgotten from any company’s database, the company must comply, unless they have some legitimate reason for storing the data (according to the Europa website, this is to ensure that deleting information does not counteract freedom of expression or freedom of the press, and does not result in controversial political statements like attempting to erase history). The situation becomes more complex, however, when someone makes a request for information to be completely forgotten, as a company does not control who copies information off of a webpage, and tracing this flow of information has great challenges. As of yet though, this reform has not been passed through, and is still in the working stages.

Looking at transparency reports is further troubling. By browsing transparency reports by large online companies like Facebook and Google, one can easily see requests for user information, requests for content removal, and government regulation and intervention trends. Unsurprisingly, the United States, in the case of both companies, is by far the worst, with the most requests for user information. With the exception of the American outlier, the UK has a high amount of requests, with reasonable rates of data actually being produced as a result of these requests. So is it bothersome that my government can ask Facebook or Google for information from my account and for it to be blindly handed over? According to Facebook, it’s not quite as simple as that. On their policy and terms of use pages, it becomes clear that minimal information is compromised whenever possible (this is not to say that corporate access to your information for marketing purposes is not a prevalent issue). Shuffling through Facebook’s responses to mass criticism concerning online security and content, it seems that Facebook wants to create as open a forum as possible. While they obviously see that privacy, and ethical content are issues that need to be addressed, they don’t want to compromise the integrity of the Facebook concept: to promote freedom of expression and to create a dialogical, engaging platform for the everyday person.

Where, then, is the missing link? If Facebook isn’t going to change its concept – which I don’t necessarily think it should – then how do we protect ourselves against threats of identity theft, child exploitation, and intellectual property theft? I think it’s well time that the rest of the world catches up. I know public policy and federal law don’t change overnight, but we’ve been living in a social networking world for about a decade: it’s time to bring on the change. It absolutely disgusts me that I can log on to Facebook and look through hate pages with comment after comment of blatant cyber-bullying. There was a case in Vancouver, Canada about a year ago with a girl named Amanda Todd. She had flashed someone online; who had taken a screen shot of a teenage girl’s chest, and taunted her by mass distributing the image. She changed schools and attempted to part with the mockery, but couldn’t escape it. She finally took to YouTube to plea for help, and to no avail, committed suicide. As someone who went through bullying in my early teens, I had major sympathy, and was truly bothered by this story. Out of curiosity, I went on Facebook to look at the RIP pages. There, I found mixed comments; some mourned this girl, while others took full advantage of the opportunity to vent, and essentially said that she deserved to die. Worse, many of the posts came from people in other parts of the world, and so naturally I asked myself why do these people feel that they know enough to make such awful bold statements? The problem doesn’t lie with the communication medium, but those who post hateful or incriminating words need to be held accountable.

At the end of the day, legislation needs to step up to the plate, and we need to stop pointing fingers as the medium and start holding accountability to those involved. The law needs to treat online content the same as real-life actions and statements. Some might say that much of the world already does this, but I think it is most definitely not at the level that it should be. When the news reported a murderous crime, did we blame the news station for publicizing a condemnable act? Of course not. Social networks are social media, and that’s all for which they are accountable.

Though I’m covering a lot of topics that may seem overwhelmingly, I think my point is that they are all connected and the issues that Western society face related to social media are issues of accountability. If you go up to a stranger, and hand them your credit card, you cannot be shocked when they use it. When you hand a teen your driver’s license, there’s a good chance someone will pose as you and use it as a fake ID. And when you give angry youth the opportunity to vent – as we’ve particularly experienced in Vancouver with the hockey riots – there’s a good chance they will take it, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. Just like there is no guarantee in life that you will not fall victim to a crime, there is no guarantee that you are safe online; just like there is in real life, however, there are always precautions one can take to avoid this victimization. What is lacking is the initiative. With that said, take it upon yourself to move your mouse one inch, click on that icon in the corner, and log out.