Since the creation of Facebook (2004) and other social media sites online, it seems researchers in the field of pediatric medicine, psychology, and even business have been fascinated by the potential effects of such online interaction on the quality of friendships and/or personal relationships. Relationships ranging from classmates, family, acquaintances, co-workers and colleagues, and perfect strangers (including blind dates), have been the subject of many research topics under the American Psychological Association, the Pew Research Center, the Mayo Clinic, and the American Medical Association (Pediatrics) when it comes to the topic friendships and the cross-over affect from social media to real life face-to-face interaction. If you’re curious about some of that research, have a look at the following online free articles here:
I bring this up because over the past three years since beginning my writing career, I have used social media to interact with fellow authors, book reviewers, bloggers, and new fans. It has been an educating, heart wrenching, and stimulating experience, and has contributed to a tremendous amount of personal growth emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, and spiritually. I have met wonderful new friends online, whom I know I may or may not meet in person someday – and we are BOTH okay with that reality. This is true only because we know that our friendship online is as colleagues, peers, and for professional and creative networking. There are situations in my “other” job where this is true as well. I have colleagues in the field of higher education administration and advising/counseling whom I have only ever interacted with via webinars, seen once or twice a year for conferences, or who attend one of my workshops. We understand that our interaction is for professional growth, and not for anything more than that. We respect each others’ boundaries. This is where the importance of understanding our purpose for these social media, face-to-face, and other relationships we develop. In my universe, I make it clear to those I interact with regularly where we stand. I am either your fellow writing/author/blogger peer, one of my reader fans/followers or book reviewers, my family member, a church or personal friend I’ve known for years, or my professional network colleague/mentor/mentee. This is the extent of my social media categories, and I do my best not to blur the lines. Yes, some of my family, friends, and colleagues are also reader fans or followers of my writing, but when I interact with them under a specific context, I continue to keep those lines delineated depending on the subject at hand, so we don’t get confused. It may sound a little harsh, but it helps to keep things in perspective – to ME. You may disagree, and I can respect that other authors or education professionals or people in general, have a right to their own opinion and practices. I’m only speaking for myself. My rationale is that I AM able to keep things in perspective and hold only myself responsible for my actions, while I cannot be held responsible for how another person perceives me based on their purpose for interacting with me. I have a recent example – a sad one, but a good example to illustrate my point.
I had recently ended a Facebook friendship with someone I had met through my author page. I will call him Mike for the sake of protecting the innocent. He began messaging me early in 2014 and told me he admired my writing because I was versatile and wasn’t afraid to write across various genres. Anyone who follows me closely online knows that I write spiritual fiction and romance, and I am a fan of both as well. In any case, Mike decided he followed both my spiritual fiction series and read both of my romance novels as well. He enjoyed both, and we would chat whenever he saw me online. He also began following my Instagram feed and liking several of my Facebook posts, most of which are of an uplifting, spiritual, or life lesson in nature. I appreciated and still do appreciate those comments and follows from ALL my fans and followers, and I will thank them and comment back when I am able. However, in Mike’s case, he began to understand each of my posts as directly correlated to our last chat session. While I never met Mike in person, he felt offended by two of my re-posts from another author friend that had to do with the difference between men and women when it came to parenting and relationships. Mike “unfriended” me saying that he felt I was insulting him and “flirting with the devil” for my posts. While I can respect that the re-post about relationships may have been in poor taste, it was not directed at him. He later private messaged me stating that I was leading him into an inappropriate romantic relationship knowing that I was married. In my reply to him, I stated that at no time did I ever insinuate or imply that we were more than Facebook and Instagram friends, but I did apologize if he felt insulted somehow. I recommended we end our friendship if he felt this way and that I would be fine discontinuing communication with a fan/follower who felt uncomfortable with me as a writer making personal opinion commentary. Oddly enough, he re-friended me, but only on Instagram, which I am fine with. Instagram has no chat option as far as I know, so he is safe to keep to himself and I can continue making commentary without him “liking” my posts. Long story though this was, you get the idea of how such social media friendships can become complicated. I didn’t think there was an issue, because in my mind I felt I was making simple commentary. In Mike’s mind, we were more and he believed I was crossing a dangerous line. Misunderstandings happen, and since that time I have been much better at putting a disclaimer or explanation for my post.
More positive experience has been with my family, friends (including old college friends), and professional colleagues in higher education. Over the 20 years I have been in higher education, many of my colleagues have moved on to different careers or former mentors have retired and are enjoying life beyond the grind. Through social media, we have reconnected and it has been very enriching and fulfilling for both of us. I am learning how to become a wiser administrator and counselor, while they get to relive the life of higher education through my stories and questions. Because I come from a huge extended family network, many of my relatives are still in the Philippines, live in almost every state in the United States, and some even work in Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, and in other corners of the world. Thanks to Facebook, I have reconnected with cousins, aunts and uncles, and even nieces and nephews, and we keep each other updated on how we are doing. Relatives I haven’t seen since I was 17 years old now have met my husband and two sons through Skype and Facebook. We spend at least once a month doing longer online “face time” since we are all living very active and busy lives. In this way, social media friendships has been enriching, and has bridged what would otherwise have been a permanent gap in communication.
While one area was with a complete stranger, the others were with people I have and continue to meet in person. Some of the research I noted earlier suggests that relationships with a higher percentage of “quality” in their friendship are a hybrid of both social media coupled with personal “real time” interaction. In other words, you use social media to supplement your face-to-face (in real life) relationship with your circle of friends. Technology has made this hybrid possible, although the old school version of it would have been the use of a telephone and talking for hours on end even after you’ve left your friend’s presence. I know this was true for me when I was in middle and high school. Our teens, young adults, and even college-aged adults seem to prefer text and social media as well as Skyping to this according to the research noted above. To each their own? For me, an old school “pass the note to…” and “call me after 6:00” kind of gal, in my mid-life I’d much rather send the text or call you telling you to “meet me at the coffee shop for lunch or dinner” so I can see you, feel the vibrations coming from your personal presence, and remember your face in “real” time. Now THAT, to me, makes for quality in my relationships.
Author Disclaimer: I write this blog post based on the research from the online sites I noted above. My own personal experience, however, has been very enriching since starting my writing career in full force in 2012. My social media friendships have been nothing but supportive, constructive in their critique of my work, and intellectually stimulating when it comes to my creative process. True, there was a small percentage of “friends” who I have been forced to discontinue contact with on social media, but in the grander scheme of things, I would have ended such friendships if regardless if these individuals had presented themselves to me face-to-face. While I enrich my familial, personal, and professional friendships through social media contact, I value and place greater emphasis on my face-to-face interactions. Even those friendships whom I have only had the pleasure of making phone and text message contacts with are different, but equally valuable to me. With all this being said, I want to say, “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart,” for all you have been, done, and continue to be to me.
I’d love to hear how your experiences with social media friendship has affected, enriched, or altered your quality of friendship overall. Please comment in the space provided.
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2015 Author Events in Southern California:
Saturday, April 11th @ 6:00 PM
In-store Book Signing at The Magic Door Bookstore IV
155 W. Second Street, Pomona, CA 91766
Contact: Dwain or Joann Kaiser, Booksellers (909) 472-2991
Saturday, April 25th @ 1:00 PM
Meet the Author: Claire Gager Book Talk & Signing
The Brodie Room at Upland Public Library
450 N. Euclid Avenue, Upland, CA 91786
Contact: Doris Gin, Adult Literacy Program Coordinator
(909) 931-4202 or Doris.Gin@uplandlibrary.org
Saturday, May 16th @ 2:00 PM
In-store Book Signing at Barnes & Noble Booksellers at Montclair Plaza
5183 Montclair Plaza Lane, Montclair, CA 91763
Contact: Jo Lynn Russell, Community Business Development Manager
(909) 399-5759 or firstname.lastname@example.org