Social media interaction has been popular ever since the Myspace days, and has only grown exponentially in recent years. With the advent of Twitter and Instagram, we’re spending more time on touch screens than ever before, and with this push to condense an entire personality into 140 character updates, there has come a greater sense of responsibility about how we as individuals conduct our media presence. Whether a person is online for networking purposes or just to stay in touch with friends, there is a consciousness that we need to put everything out there to be commented on, retweeted, liked, just because. This shift has changed not only how we represent ourselves, but how we meet other people.
How many college students would seriously consider making an online profile on a dating site? Chances are, not as many as those who currently use media apps to interact. This is in part because commercials for sites like eHarmony and match.com can be intimidating, as they emphasize finding a life partner and settling down. On the other end of the online spectrum, there are the pop-up ads on every website flashing young blondes “IN YOUR AREA!” Attempting to cover the middle ground is a new application, called Tinder. The app is designed for young people who don’t necessarily want to get married, but also aren’t looking for a Craigslist hookup. And if the ever-rising amounts of downloads are any indication, this idea seems to be catching on.
How much does a polar bear weigh? Enough to break the ice! Which Tinder claims it will do for you. By presenting a user with a series of photos (taken from Facebook) and asking them to click or pass, this app simplifies the process of establishing attraction down to the most basic level. If two users have a match, they can then choose to talk further. What distinguishes Tinder from other social media platforms is that a mutual interest has to be confirmed by both parties in order for contact to occur. This eliminates the horror of an inbox flooded with random come-ons from questionable characters. That’s not to say everyone on the site is a “hot young single” as the advertisements proclaim, there is always the danger of being tricked. When a user signs into the app, Tinder uses Facebook to verify that they are indeed a person. But as the MTV show “Catfish” chronicles, online deception is all too easy.
A student who wishes to remain anonymous spoke about her experience with Tinder, “When I first got on Tinder I went on it frequently to see who I could spark a conversation with, specifically good looking people. I actually ended up meeting up with one of the people I met on there and it was an interesting experience. I went to his school and we hit it off. One thing you have to remember is to focus on getting to know someone before you pursue any physical attraction. I talked to this guy for a few weeks before we met; it’s a friendly and flirtatious relationship.”
There is some truth to Tinder’s advertisement, online interaction undoubtedly lessens the dreaded awkwardness of two people meeting and getting to know one another. Users can quickly determine whether a person is interested in them, and go from there. Of course, anyone who uses social media to meet potential romantic interests is taking a risk. But is it really any more dangerous than going out to a bar or club, where it takes a lot more than clicking “nope” to ward off unwanted attention? The key difference being that physical rejection of a person feels a lot more heartless than “passing” on a profile picture.
On social networking sites, there is a certain amount of responsibility a person holds to represent their life with accuracy. At the same time, tweaking a few details can be an attractive option, especially for those of us who are less outgoing. Says Holyoke Community College student Connor Hovey, “ People use Twitter to make their lives seem more interesting, everyone is always looking for that positive light in their life.” In this way, the internet is a readily available crutch, and somewhat devalues the crucial skills of face to face interaction that are vital to networking in the real world. The power to become a better version of oneself can easily get out of hand, as student Emily Taylor puts it: “A lot of time people who appear to be frequently and excessively artsy online are irritating because they pour too much effort into marketing themselves.” Self-marketing is essentially what we do with every online post or interaction, because once a virtual representation of a person is put on the internet, it’s often impossible to retract. Just ask the girl who became “crazy girlfriend meme.”
There is a certain amount of pressure to have every aspect of one’s life on display just to stay in the loop. After all, if a party is thrown and no one tweets about it, did it really happen? In the same vein, if a person isn’t on Twitter, the initial process of getting to know them becomes almost too personal. “I’m definitely pro-social networking,” said Hovey. “You can get a good idea of what someone is like by looking at their profile, without asking prying questions.”
Student Bri Callahan echoed this same sentiment, “On a social network you’re able to scope someone out a little more, check out their tweets and bio. Whereas in person you can’t really check out the details of them like that, on Twitter it is all there.”
It’s true that being on social media requires a certain amount of instantaneous judgement, like the cover of a book. But at the same time by checking out a person’s online presence, you are able to gauge their interests as compared to your own, and maybe read a page or two of that metaphorical book.
It will be interesting to see how the rising social media platforms play out in future years. Whether they will remain so strong or, if the recent hacking of Beyonce and Michelle Obama’s files is any indication, our willingness to store personal information digitally will become a security issue. Who knows, several decades from now we all might be playing online bingo and taking selfies in our nursing home bathrooms.