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06/08/2020 The Communication Science magazine

Happy birthday, I suppose?

These novel ways of communication bring forth all sorts of questions. This article answers one: How social are social media?


Technology has brought us all sorts of innovations and new ways to interact with one another. These novel ways of communication bring forth all sorts of questions. This article answers one: How social are social media?

The key feature of social media is, as the name suggests, to be sociable. All the popular social media nowadays do indeed enable us to connect with others. We can send messages to friends and family via WhatsApp, comment on photos and videos within Instagram and wish our friends a happy birthday via Facebook.

Unsocial media
But how sociable are these actions really? Would you have wished that friend, who you haven’t spoken to face-to-face in three years, a happy birthday if Facebook hadn’t reminded you to? Would you have even known it was their birthday?

Would you have wished your friend a happy birthday if it weren’t for Facebook?

Come to think of it, how social is typing ‘Happy birthday!’ whilst on the train, tram or toilet actually? Facebook is trying to embellish these birthday wishes by adding a ‘personal’ video recap of them. Their attempt seems to be leading nowhere though, as these messages are only somewhat personal. They implement the same video and structure for all videos, changing minor things like messages and names.

Besides the impersonal side some social media offer, there is more that’s unsocial about social media. Ever been to a party? Presumably, yes. Ever been to a party where no one was using a mobile phone? Presumably, no. We use our phones to induce social contact, but we also use it to replace it. Low on conversational topics? Grab your phone. The friend you came with is off to the loo and left you by yourself? Grab your phone.

Making plans and friends
One thing that social media enables us to do, is make plans instantly. With just a few taps on your phone, you can ask to meet up with a college mate, plan a party and invite all your friends. Long gone are the days of handmade invitation cards for a party as Facebook, Google and WhatsApp do it all for you. All you need to do is pick out the best fitting party image, think up a title for your party and invite your most beloved acquaintances.

Facebook, Google and WhatsApp do it all for you

And even dating has been made very – maybe even too – easy thanks to apps like Tinder, Happn and Badoo. After some swiping and typing, your plans for the evening can be made. These actions are not limited to the dating scene; many apps are catered to making friends as well. Apps like Yellow, Skout and Mico offer you the chance to get to know new people.

Verona takes it one step further and aims for world peace with their app. Through the same technique that Tinder uses to match you up with other people, you can come in contact with people with controversial opinions.

Social butterflies
Social media definitely facilitate our ways of communication with others. But do we really get more social through it? My personal opinion is that it still depends on the user whether social media are really used for social communication. Only posting selfies on Snapchat defeats the purpose of the medium. Social media do not make us social butterflies per se, but most surely allow the opportunity.

Cover: Christiaan Colen

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