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Taylor Haggerson

Instructor: Malcolm Campbell

English 1104

November 8th, 2018

Why Chuck Loved Wilson: How Social Media is Changing Relationships

In 2016, five students in Tarporley England decided to go on a digital detox as an

experiment for a school project at their local high school. Their detox included giving up all

social media and instant messaging, except for methods of contacting their parents. According to

the article “An Anti-Social Experiment” posted by BBC news, students went the whole week

from Wednesday to Wednesday without using their phones for social media, and texting/instant

messaging. This included apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even YouTube.

Students were wary about making it through the weekend without their phones for support. As

the author of the article Rory Cellan-Jones states, “…if your primary means of communication is

taken away that is bound to cause problems. Twenty-five years ago, teenagers would have been

furious if they had been told they could not use the home telephone.” (BBC News). However, the

students and teachers around them were interested to see what they would learn. One student

found that without her phone she talked more with her family, rather than using her parents as

what she calls a ‘taxi service’.

Without their phones, students resorted back to landline phone calls, and emailing as

means of communication. The librarian at their school was happy to finally see people checking

out books to read. One student even began reading newspapers and magazines. Jones states that
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overall, “…what this experiment has shown so far is just how central to the lives of teenagers

social networks and messaging tools have become” (BBC News).

One teacher before the experiment stated that, “The thought of having real conversations

and maybe even reading a book seems to be way too much to handle.” (BBC News). That has

become something many teenagers do not participate in. Most importantly the digital age has

changed the way people interact with each other. Much like when the student began talking more

to her parents when her phone was removed from the equation.

A relationship is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, as a way in which two or

more people are connected. A relationship can consist of a significant other, but also of a mother

and daughter, a best friend, or a sibling. Relationships can even consist of a man and his

volleyball, much like in the movie Cast Away when Chuck becomes stranded alone on an island.

Relationships are a true measure of just how important connections are to humans. However,

relationships are now becoming virtual based, friends online, and ‘followers’. The term

relationship is constantly advancing to more platforms. So, how is social media changing

relationships?

The Beginning of the Social Media Pandemic

According to my parents, before the digital age, it was common for teenagers to use their

landlines to call their friends and make plans for the weekend. If they didn’t pick up, then they

would drive to one of the three common hang-out spots in their area and see who they ran into. If

they wanted to contact a distant friend or relative, they sent them a letter via snail mail (that was

before email). If someone wanted to stay up to date on the news, they read the paper, or watched
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the morning and/or evening news on television. There was no Twitter or Facebook to rely on for

current events and keeping up with long-lost mutual friends.

Social media didn’t come into fruition until 1997, when a website called Six Degrees

gave users the ability to friend other users. This was the start of networking through the digital

world. “From Six Degrees, the internet moved into the era of blogging and instant messaging.

Although blogging may not seem like social media precisely, the term fits because people were

suddenly able to communicate [their thoughts] instantly [and to] other readers.”

(Historycooperative.org). From Six Degrees to Snapchat, with each changing media interface,

people are conforming to these changes.

There is a term ‘ontological design’ that best described the way in which society has

become more reliant on technology. Think of the Drawing Hands by M.C. Escher, each hand is

drawing the other hand, so without one the

other would not exist and vice versa.

Without humans, technology wouldn’t exist,

but without technology, humans wouldn’t

exist. This is the vicious cycle coined the

ontological design. Society today has

created themselves to rely so heavily on

social media and other technologies, that

without it they wouldn’t know what to do. Figure 1:Drawing Hands,M.C. Escher

So, what was life like before social media? An article posted by Social Media Week

written by Tereza Litsa, explains how the memories of her life before technology are strange to

think about, even though the memories are still there. “If I had to describe in one word the first
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memory I have about life before the internet, I would choose ‘silence’. Silence was not literal,

but rather metaphorical, since we didn’t have to deal with all the social media buzz and the noise

that may turn distracting from time to time.” Much like Litsa, people who remember twenty-five

years ago have a good understanding of how they and the people around them have changed by

social media influences.

What’s Wrong with Social Media?

The original purpose of social media was to network people. For example, LinkedIn is

used on a specifically professional basis, but nonetheless it is there to connect a person with

another throughout a specific work industry. The convenience social media has created with

communicating has helped families connect throughout different parts of the world. There is no

doubt that social media has been innovative in finding ways to keep people connected. The world

is not as big as it seems once a person becomes connected on the Internet.

With as many advantages social media has to offer, there are equally as many

disadvantages. And while many are aware of dangers on social media such as catfishing or risk

of information being stolen, many other more long-lasting dangers are overlooked. Social Media

users have failed to see the dangers in what social media is actually offering them;

communication.

Communication through social media minimizes the senses experienced through

authentic conversation. In a Forbes article titled, “Is Social Media Sabotaging Real

Communication?”, the author Susan Tardanico states that, “[s]tudies show that only 7% of

communication is based on the written or verbal word. A whopping 93% is based on body

language.” This means that emotions can not fully be expressed under the restrictions of social

media relationships.
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Tardanico describes an incident occurring in October of 2017, Sharon Seline had been

texting her daughter who was away at college. Although the text conversation was brief,

Sharon’s daughter explained to her mother that everything was going well, responding with

positive texts of light-hearted moods. The next day however, Sharon’s daughter had attempted

suicide. Her mother was shocked to learn the news and could not believe that what her daughter

had actually been feeling was masked by “…emoticons showing smiles, b-i-g smiles and hearts.

Happiness.” (Tardanico).

Her mother soon learned that her daughter had instead, “been holed up in her dorm room,

crying and showing signs of depression—a completely different reality from the one that she

conveyed in texts, Facebook posts and tweets.” (Tardanico). But hiding emotions isn’t the only

issue in relying on social media as means of communication and relationships.

In a study published in 2012, called the “Effects of Anonymity, Invisibility, and Lack of

Eye-Contact on Toxic Online Disinhibition”, the behaviors of a group of people were observed

and recorded throughout the course of their social media usage compared to their behavior not

using social media. To start off, disinhibition is defined as “a lack of restraint manifested in

disregard for social conventions, impulsivity, and poor risk assessment.” (Lapidot-Lefler).

Disinhibition is referred to as ‘flaming behavior’ throughout this experiment.

The study was conducted with 142 participants with 50 percent male and 50 percent

female. Their ages ranging from 18 to 34 and their interests differing greatly. “…we further

hypothesized that anonymity (independently and in interaction with the other factors) would

show the strongest effects [of flaming behavior], followed by invisibility and then the lack of

eye-contact.” (Lapidot-Lefler). This means that anonymity, such as social media, would
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demonstrate stronger negative affects in behavior in comparison to behavior demonstrated in the

presence of someone else.

The study states that, “[l]ack of eye-contact plays a major role in triggering behaviors

related to negative online disinhibition.” Imagine a teenager, lacking confidence in person but is

able to hide that behind their social media accounts. “The toxic aspect of disinhibition has been

shown to cause various problematic behaviors in cyberspace, such as flaming and a negative

atmosphere.” (Lapidot-Lefler). Without the ability to see in person who they are connecting with

through social media, this teenager is more at risk of developing harsher behaviors online. This

could lead to issues like cyberbullying.

The results of the study, “…show that eye-contact has a significant main effect on

negative online disinhibition, as well as on self-reported flaming incidents and

threats. …Invisibility was found to affect behavioral disinhibition both over the Internet and in

offline communication.” This proves the researcher’s hypothesis in triggering flaming behavior

when remain anonymous. It’s as if retaining anonymity diminishes moral standard.

Social media is changing how people communicate with one another. As Litsa, from

Social Media Week, states about her life before social media, “…communication was more

personal, face-to-face contact had to be less awkward, while our mind functioned in a completely

different way, being obligated to retain information, focusing on one task at a time.”. Today, all

of those skills have now been lost, due to the undesired want to make conversation. Imagine that

93% of communication used that cannot be demonstrated through the written and verbal word.

As Tardanico, from Forbes, states, “…we are now attempting to forge relationships and make

decisions based on phrases. Abbreviations. Snippets. Emoticons. Which may or may not be

accurate representations of the truth.” Where would that 93% of communication even go?
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So, who is Chuck?

A coffee house, named HotBlack Coffee Cafe in Toronto, has recently declined to offer

free Wi-Fi to its customers. The owner Jimson Bienenstock explains that, “his aim is to get

customers to talk with one another instead of being buried in their portable devices.” His

reasonings for this change derives from the correlation of health and longevity to social

interactions. Positive social interaction will lead to a longer, healthier, more fulfilled life.

Obviously, humans need relationships. This is evident in the movie Cast Away starring

Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland who becomes stranded alone on an island and develops a

relationship with a Wilson volleyball. Because there was no one else around him, the human

relationship he needed was instead compensated by the volleyball he named Wilson. As much as

humans need this connection to other people, this movie shows that humans are capable of

replacing people to whatever they think will make them happier. This is evident in more ways

than just social media. For example, people replaced their families with work. But in the majority

of cases, society is becoming consumed by social media. People are becoming replaced by the

superficial portrayal of themselves online. Rather than a one real friend, a person can have 560

thousand friends on Facebook or Instagram.

In contrast to the movie Cast Away, societies usage of social media can soon become next

to exactly like the society portrayed in Wall-E. This is a movie that portrays a society in which

everyone knew everyone, yet nobody knew anyone. This cartoon movie about one robot being

the only thing left on Earth, portrays how dirty humans have left their world. But in another less

portrayed lens, yet a still very relevant aspect of the movie Wall-E shows how society has

conformed to floating around in a chair all day on social media and talking online with their
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friends. It isn’t until two people literally bump into each other that they start to authentically

notice one another and notice the environment surrounding them.

With a more specific focus into human interactions and why relationships are important,

there are two examples provided in an article posted by Psychology Today titled, “Why We Need

Each Other”:

[Example 1] John lives alone but is very social. He has many friends with whom he

spends a lot of time and sees frequently. However, he feels sad and disappointed because

his friendships don’t seem to meet his needs. He doesn’t derive a sense of connection to

others and a feeling of satisfaction. Despite his busy social life, he feels alone and

lonely. (Psychology Today)

[Example 2] Albert lives alone and has two close friends whom he sees

occasionally. When he meets with them, he has a good time talking about current events

and sports as well as each other’s thoughts and feelings regarding their lives. When he

is not at work or in the company of others, Albert does not feel lonely because he spends

time engaging in activities that interest and energize him. (Psychology Today)

John and Albert both seem to live alone and have friends, Albert is fulfilled with the

minimal friends he has. According to the article, “how much social connectedness a person needs

influences how much aloneness they can tolerate.” (Psychology Today). John is not receiving

enough ‘social connectedness’ with the friends he has. Rather, his relationships, compared to

Albert’s relationships are superficial. “Humans, because of necessity, evolved into social

beings.” Despite people thinking that they only need themselves, the nature of our desires to

affiliate with others will leave a void if not fulfilled. (Psychology Today).
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Authentic relationships are the few friendships that fill the social connectedness. Social

media becomes many surface level relationships used to keep a person busy, that is until they are

left lone without a substantial amount of connection from their relationships.

What comes next?

The simplest solution would not be to remove social media all together. Social media

plays too large of a part in society to be suddenly taken away. Like the ontological design,

without these technologies, people would not know what to do.

Instead, people and especially young teens should be more aware of their actions on

social media. Teenagers specifically are an impressionable kind to work with. Their growing and

development will be influenced by the way in which they are introduced to the world. Parents,

adults and the teens themselves should be aware of their behavioral changes, and the amount of

virtual to authentic relationships they have. They should regularly practice the art of conversation

and make eye-contact. Most importantly, families and friends should take at least an hour out of

their day to turn off all technology and social media accounts. The more this action is done, the

more it becomes habitual. People should sit down with the ones they love, ask them about their

day, and have a conversation.


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Works Cited

Brody, Jane E. “Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health.” The New York

Times, The New York Times, 12 June 2017,

www.nytimes.com/2017/06/12/well/live/having-friends-is-good-for-you.html.

Cellan-Jones, Rory. “An Anti-Social Experiment.” BBC News, BBC, 8 Mar. 2016,

www.bbc.com/news/technology-35752625.

“Drawing Hands.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Nov. 2018,

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drawing_Hands.

Keith. “The History of Social Media: Social Networking Evolution!” History Cooperative,

Jegtheme, 6 July 2018, historycooperative.org/the-history-of-social-media/.

Lapidot-Lefler, Noam, Barak, Azy, and Lapidot-Lefler, Noam. “Effects of Anonymity,

Invisibility, and Lack of Eye-Contact on Toxic Online Disinhibition.” Computers in

Human Behavior 28.2 434–443. 2012. Web. Accessed 23 Oct 2018.

Litsa, Tereza. “Do You Remember Life Before The Internet?” Social Media Week, 25 June 2015,

socialmediaweek.org/blog/2015/06/life-before-internet/.

"relationship." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2018. Web. 8 Nov 2018.

Stanton, Andrew, director. Wall-E. Pixar, 2008.

Tardanico, Susan. “Is Social Media Sabotaging Real Communication?” Forbes, Forbes

Magazine, 15 Apr. 2014, www.forbes.com/sites/susantardanico/2012/04/30/is-social-

media-sabotaging-real-communication/#6420f11f2b62. Accessed 23 Oct 2018.

Zemeckis, Robert, director. Cast Away. 20th Century Fox, 2000.