PHI103: Informal Logic
Social media is innovative internet technology that integrates Web 2.0 dynamic interfaces (chats, blogging, forums, content sharing) to connect users to a vast social network where they can socialize by making on-line friends, exchanging opinions, news, photos, and other media content. The emergence of social media in 2005-2008 with the launch of such services as Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter started the revolution in social interaction by creating new formats, spaces, and tools for interpersonal relationships where technology acquired the role of shaping human contact and behaviors. Given the rapid development of social networking, the question arise whether social media enhance or ruin traditional interpersonal relationships? In this essay, we are seeking to address this issue by dealing with premises, a conclusion, and analyzing both sides of the argument. The premises are statements that support the conclusion, and the conclusion is the claim.
In formulating my argument, I use the standard form, which is “ the main method for identifying, constructing, or examining arguments” in informal logic (Hardy, Foster, Zuniga y Postigo, 2015, section 2.1). It allows me to present this arguments in a clear and concise way.
(Premise One) Enhancement of interpersonal relationships involves an increase of communication frequency, sharing similar interests, and solving common issues, establishing sustainable social circles, improving social spaces to meet and socialize.
(Premise Two). Social media enable social interaction via such technologies and features as posting, sharing content (video, audio, photo), commenting, following, and creating virtual social groups.
(Conclusion). Therefore, by offering relevant social technologies (posting, commenting, chatting), social media create a virtual space that may enhance interpersonal relationships and create new ones.
The above premises set the backdrop for building the argument. In line with social psychology, interpersonal relationships are important for individuals as social beings. According to Maslow (1943), human involvement in personal relationships is explained by their desire to feel love and acceptance from various social groups (e.g. family and peers). People tend to engage in rewarding relationships with those people with whom they can share emotions, knowledge, and acquire new knowledge, information, and experiences. Therefore, interpersonal relationships are crucial for building a person’s sense of self (Andersen & Chen, 2012). That is an individual constructs identity and personal beliefs by interacting with individuals with similar or opposing personalities and developing opinions and positions on issues experienced by many people collectively.
In order to prove the premises stated above, we use deductive reasoning. Deduction involves making statements about a particular case based on the general rule and law. Deductive reasoning has a ‘truth-preserving’ nature (Hardy, Foster, & Zuniga y Postigo, 2015, section 2.4). Therefore, if our premises are true, then the conclusion is also valid.
The general law of interpersonal relationships is that they need development, maintenance, and sustainability to be enhanced. Unfortunately, contemporary post-industrial society promotes further individualization, dispersion, and atomization of social communication. This process prevents such enhancement of interpersonal relationships. In traditional societies with strong communal links, people were involved in common activities (farming, community holidays, resolving communal issues) that strengthened interpersonal relationships. However, with the rise of modern civilization accompanied by urbanization and liberalization of society, communal links were weakened or even broken. Under this circumstances, frequency and depth of social interactions were compromised. Moreover, liberalization resulted in the destruction of traditional public spaces of social interaction. Work, education, and family are still important space for interpersonal relationships, however, due to the intensity of modern economics and social exchanges people are left with less time to engage in meaningful communication. This happens, because the openness of modern economy promotes shorter and more diverse contacts among people from different countries and regions. The influx of communication it creates, however, is short-term and highly unstable. Social ties are easily broken and re-established.
The emergence of social media in the early-2000s may thus be seen as a contemporary technological solution to the crisis of interpersonal relationships in modern society. Social media use state-of-the-art Web 2.0 technologies that facilitate on-line communication using various interactive features: blogging, posting and sharing content, doing podcasts, video conferencing, creating virtual social circles, trending, and following (a close analogy to making real friends). These features reproduce and, sometimes, extend analogous types of traditional interactions.
In many ways, social media features are stronger than traditional frameworks of social interaction, because they have the advantage of high mobility, availability, and coverage. For example, with the mobile technology any person has an opportunity to share his/her views on current events within seconds by posting blogs and sharing media (images, audio, video) with his/her virtual friends and followers. In this way, friends and peers can keep in touch with each other despite the distance and time zones that separate them. Thus, according to Drussell (2012), “social networking sites on the Internet may be used to strengthen relationships that already exist, therefore acting as a bridge between the online and offline worlds” (p.8). This bridge secures the harmonious balance of virtual and real communication, with the same effort, enhancing the interaction between two individuals or a group of people.
Moreover, with social media, a person may have a greater social impact by reaching new people and creating new social circles. For example, social media facilitates the creation of social circles that share similar interests, hobbies, or experiences/problems. People from any part of the world may engage in conversations and discussions on various topics, such as films, art, economy, politics, or sports making new friends and creating international channels of communication and cooperation. In fact, through social media people may support others (those in need, young artists, and musicians), organize collective social and political projects, and engage in social advocacy, activism, and other activities that promote their common causes. All these social media tools, thus, expand the space of social communication and help resolve such issues as decreasing frequency of interpersonal relationship and destruction of communal types. In this way, social media (if used efficiently) offer a means for enhancement of interpersonal relationships and bolstering innovative approaches to social interactions.
Objection to the Argument
All reviewers and commentators do not share a view discussed above. Some critics object that social media enhance interpersonal relationship (Rushkoff, 2014). In contrast, such critics as Rushkoff argue that social media make these relationships shallow, void, and insignificant. In their view, social networks create addictive forms of web narcissism reflected in the obsessive desire to increase on-line popularity by attracting more followers, likes, and social media recognition (Rushkoff, 2014). Such opinion, for example, is defended in the popular documentary ‘Generation Like’ that presents a disquieted picture of social media turning young people into consumers of media content and self-promoters who are not interested in building strong social relationships, but strive to become “master manipulators of social media themselves” (Rushkoff, 2014, 47min). The movie shows how young people are more preoccupied with gaining popularity, social recognition, and on-line status that may be converted into money. So, according to Keller (2013), “our interactions on social media tend to be weak ties—that is, we don’t feel as personally connected to the people at the other end of our communication as we do when we’re face-to-face.” (p.10). In many ways, the objections mentioned above are supported by the popularity of video blogging (YouTube) as a means of content monetization. Many channels created on YouTube are commercial in nature. The same applies to many Facebook pages set up to promote certain goods and services.
Relying on the similar arguments, critics of social media argue that the latter decrease the depth of interpersonal relationships. For these relationships to be strong, they should include empathy, intimacy, and trust. Without face-to-face communication and real-world meetings and leisure activities, strong interpersonal relationships cannot be established. Thus, social media become a simulacrum of really meaningful and valuable interpersonal relationships.
Refutation of Objection
The main flaw of the objection mentioned above is its false generalization of certain negative tendencies in the contemporary social media. Like any means of social interaction, social media may be exploited by commercial interests and fall prey to evil intentions. However, this does not imply that social media have a negative impact on interpersonal relationships as such. Like many technologies, social media is neutral. That is, they may be used either to the benefit or the detriment of social communication. This is what Quist (2011) means when he argues that social networks are polymorphic: they may be a seduction for some users, while they may also be a convenient way of communication for others (p.191).
It goes without saying that traditional interpersonal relationships may also be exploited. Interactions may be shallow and abusive. For example, an employer may exploit his employees, or one person seeks to take advantage of his friend, relative, or a peer. Also, it is a common case in traditional interpersonal interactions to seek for recognition and popularity at the expense of in-depth and intimate connection. In this way, negative usage of social media merely reproduces certain vices of the real-world social interactions such as arrogance and ignorance. To avoid the negative impact of abusive social practices, one should fix their causes (social inequality, poor ethics) rather than putting the blame on social media or networking which is simply the reflection of these societal problems.
On the contrary, social media have demonstrated that they can unite people of different nationalities and backgrounds by offering them agendas and interests they may share. For example, social media have been significantly improving interpersonal relationships by promoting internet activism, advocacy, and web community development. Some of the most influential implications of this trend are open source software, crowd-funding of innovative ideas, and using the internet as a venue for interesting and useful social initiatives (fundraising for philanthropy, reform, and community development). Therefore, any solid analysis of social media should not underestimate their positive impact on interpersonal relationships. At the same time, however, cases of social media inefficient or harmful usage should also be taken into consideration.
In ending social media may have a positive impact on interpersonal interactions. My above analysis demonstrates the fact that social media offer tools and spaces that allow people to connect and communicate notwithstanding national, geographical, and other limitations but should be used with discretion. As a result, social media turned into the global space of social interaction where new ideas emerge and where strong social links and ties are enhanced or established that can tighten or loosen bonds, depending on how it is used.
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