‘The Internet is conceived as a space of activity that leads to the formation of new ties, reconfiguring access to new and existing social ties’ (Mesch and Talmud, 585). E-relationships are those relationships which we form through online interactions (e.g. social network platforms) and develop into face-to-face relationship. This phenomenon has become more obvious with the recent emergence of social networks that was sparked with the creation of Facebook in 2004. I believe that due to social networks, social relationships have been both strengthened and weakened at the same time.
When using social networks to connect with people you already know, then you are strengthening your relationship with them. You may post a status on Facebook, for example, and your ‘friends’ comment by supporting or criticizing you. You may also post photos, tag friends and so on. One of the common features of the social network is creating events and inviting people. It is no longer needed to phone people or send mails when throwing a sudden random party for example. This method has been more convenient for people as it does not consume so much time. Besides, a lot of those using Facebook check their accounts on daily bases which make it easier to transfer information from one end to another.
Moreover, the social network platform has made it possible for people who have never met to become ‘friends’. What makes it more exciting is when they meet face-to-face and share common stuff. Not only that, social networks have also made it possible for people who are in search of their families to find them and form offline relations with them. In addition, social networks have united people around the globe and virtually brought the exiled back to their homelands. There are so many refugees who cannot go back to their countries. Therefore, social networks have made it possible for them to meet people online and then form offline relations when possible. Out of a personal experience, I have met the descendants of relatives who have migrated years ago to Chile and Haiti. One of them has actually come to visit us in Palestine!
Social media platforms have given power to the people. One of the world’s recent events is the Arab spring which we can consider a great example of how e-relationships are transformed to offline relationships. People using the same platform met on ‘pages’ or ‘groups’ which allowed them to agree on common demands and go out in public calling for them. In other words, it allowed them to mobilize and organize protests against their regimes. The Arab spring has proven that social networks are important and have great effects on societies. Therefore, in understanding the relationships among the people who meet offline, we can understand the role of online social networking in bringing them together.
Businesses have now started forming e-relationships with customers through social network platforms. In this way, the marketing departments in companies try to attract social networkers into their stores. In many cases, this has proved successful as people find a lot of their products online and go to the actual shop to buy the product. This kind which we can call ‘business offline e-relationship’ helps us in understanding the effect of social networks on the economy.
However, these positive points are countered with negatives that weaken the offline social relations. Gregory Northcraft, a professor of executive leadership at the University of Illinois, said “technology has made us much more efficient but much less effective. Something is being gained, but something is being lost. The something gained is time, and the something lost is the quality of relationships. And quality of relationships matters.” It is true that social networks keep people more in touch but they are useless if you need a hug for instance. They connect you to people but do not connect you with them. I believe that most of the human communication comes through body language and therefore physical communication (offline) is much more important.
An important question should be asked here: what is the difference between forming a relationship online then meet face-to-face or forming a face-to-face relationship then strengthen it online? Well, I think that getting to know a person online maybe hard as trust and honesty are important in any relationship. The saying “honesty is the best policy” should also apply online when chatting with people in order to take the relationships further and meeting them offline. Sometimes, forming a relationship online before meeting the person can be dangerous especially if the user is anonymous or impersonating another character. I think that this kind of relation may lead to crimes.
How many friends do you have on Facebook are actually your friends? The term that is used by the social network has changed the real meaning of friendship that was used ages ago. Sometimes they are people you barely know but they have access to everything you share on your social network profile. Remember that Facebook is where you put your private life in public domain. It is like a virtual avatar of yourself or more likely your “identity” exposed online when you post everything you do, think, or make. Despite all the privacy settings that are available on the platform, it allows others to track your activities and know where you are at a certain time if you check into Facebook.
By looking at these strengths and weaknesses of offline e-relationships, it becomes more obvious for us to understand the importance and role of social networking. In conclusion, social networks form a medium for people to virtually meet and interact in this virtual community where the whole world has become connected. I believe that this phenomena needs to be studied more thoroughly especially that it is effecting the conventional understanding of social relations.
I also wanted to share with you this YouTube video from TEDxTalks that I found so inspirational!
Mesch, G. and Talmud, I. (2007) “Editorial Comment: e-Relationships – the blurring and reconfiguration of offline and online social boundaries”, Information, Communication & Society, vol. 10, iss. 5, pp. 585-589, [Online], accessed 16/02/2013, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13691180701657899
Luscombe, B. (2010) ‘Why E-Mail May Be Hurting Off-Line Relationships’, Time Magazine, [Online] accessed 20/02/2013, http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1998396,00.html