Is Virtual Life Changing Us IRL?

The way we use the internet is changing. In the space of just 10 years, the way people use the internet has been revolutionised. In 2006, the most popular social networking website in the United States was MySpace, a blogging platform with the ability to create a personalised profile and share your stories with other users. (Wood, n.d.) Facebook was earning a quarter of the unique visitors MySpace was, and a new social media website called Twitter was born. (Schonfeld, 2007) Now, 10 years later, MySpace is virtually unheard of, Facebook dominates every other social media platform with 1.59 billion active users every month, and Twitter tails closely as the second most used social network.(Moreau, 2016) This shift in popularity from social media sites like MySpace to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can be credited to the increase in our dependance on technology. Nearly every aspect of life is now manageable through an application on a mobile phone, thanks to the introduction of smartphones in 2007. (Thesnugg.com, n.d.) With the technological advancements brought by the introduction of smartphones and their widespread availability, software developers looked for every opportunity to take advantage of this new form of easily accessible, pocketable technology. This opened up the market for additional downloadable mobile phone applications available to owners of smartphones, which have taken on the name ‘apps’.

The creation of the mobile application market had software developers creating apps that allowed new ways for smartphones to be used. These ranged from apps helping the user to organise events, schedule meetings and check emails, to apps for entertainment such as mobile games and online music and video content players, to apps for simplifying everyday tasks such as shopping, banking and checking the weather. Every aspect of life suddenly became controllable through an array of applications, all available at the tap of a button. But the integration of mobile apps into our everyday lives changed a major component of ourselves; the way in which we communicate. Introduction of apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage, created the ability for users to communicate through the internet with ease. Smartphone owners took full advantage of this new, efficient way of communicating with their friends, family and colleagues.

And why wouldn’t they? No longer did people have to type out text messages with finicky buttons on a physical keyboard. Users now had the ability to quickly tap out a message on a virtual touchpad with the added efficiency of having their spelling and grammar automatically corrected by the computer and not have to pay for each message sent, unlike SMS messaging. This new form of efficient communication formed habits within users, one of the notable being abbreviated expressions. Expressions such as LOL (Laughing Out Loud), WYD (What’re You Doing), OMG (Oh My God) and a plethora of other abbreviated expressions surfaced and solidified themselves as common vocabulary. The purpose of these abbreviations were to make communication of common thoughts and feelings expressible through messaging. The habit of using these terms in the virtual world can even have the effect of carrying itself into the real world. I personally have witnessed abbreviated expressions, such as LOL, used in conversations IRL (In Real Life).

All jokes aside, the transition from traditional methods of electronic communication, i.e. phone calls, to communicating in shorts bursts of text online has had a major effect on the ability for some people to write large structures of text. Social media platforms that base their service around sharing large bodies of user created text, such as blogging websites, have seen a decline in the last 10 years. In 2006, the percentage of teenage internet users that engaged in blogging was 28%. In 2010, the percentage of teenage bloggers had dropped to 14%, meaning that the number of teenagers bloggers had halved in the space of just 4 years! (Lenhart et al., 2010) This has attributed to why the popularity of sites such as MySpace have taken a nosedive in recent years. Users of these sites that are now deemed unpopular have migrated to using other social media services, such as Facebook and Twitter. Both Facebook and Twitter base their services on the ability to post and share short bodies of text to the user’s ‘friends’ or ‘followers’. On Twitter, these shared messages are limited to being no more than 140 characters, playing to the short and abbreviated nature of Twitter as a platform. 

Another trend that has been observed in social media habits over the last 10 years, is the increased amount of interpersonal relationships formed and grown over the internet. Studies show that teenagers are forming more personal connections through the use of social media that they did in previous years, with a correlative rise being seen in the number of teenage users participating in messaging and ‘group chats’ online. (Lenhart et al., 2010) This trend has also been reflected in the online world of dating, with the percentage of internet users aged 18 to 24 using online dating sites or apps rapidly increasing from 10% in 2013 to 27% in 2015, as shown in the graph below. (Pew Research Centre, 2016) 

The increase in popularity of datingpi_2016-02-11_online-dating_0-01 sites has brought to light the effects that online dating can have on a users personal life. The rise of television shows focusing on issues relating to online dating, most notably MTV’s Catfish Series, have brought awareness to the dangers and uncertainties that can be present when communicating over the internet with someone that you’ve never met in person. Ill-minded individuals can us the internet as a method of concealing their true identity in the hopes of extorting, manipulating or misleading another person for personal gain. Although this type of abuse occurs on an intangible platform, it usually cannot simply be dismissed. The affected user can build an emotional investment in the online relationship, which when abused can channel its effect into the real world, just as any other abusive relationship.

In summary, our social media habits are not only changing the way we interact within the online world, but the way in which we interact in the real world too. Technological advances in mobile devices, such as the introduction of downloadable applications, have increased our efficiency when doing everyday tasks, such as communicating with others, but have consequently increased our dependancy in using their services. The way in which people choose to use their online presence is having increasing effects on their real lives, as can be seen in the world of online dating.

 

References

Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A. and Zickuhr, K. (2010). Social Media & Mobile Internet Use Among Teens and Young Adults. 1st ed. [ebook] Washington: Pew Internet & American Life Project, p.2. Available at: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED525056.pdf [Accessed 16 Nov. 2016].

Moreau, E. (2016). The Top 25 Social Networks People Are Using Today. [online] Lifewire. Available at: https://www.lifewire.com/top-social-networking-sites-people-are-using-3486554 [Accessed 16 Nov. 2016].

Pew Research Centre, (2016). Graph of Use of online dating sites or mobile apps by young adults has nearly tripled since 2013. [image] Available at: http://i.amz.mshcdn.com/9qBBKpztloZ6Jp-lQ79Z7QuloUs=/fit-in/1200×9600/http%3A%2F%2Fmashable.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2016%2F02%2FPI_2016.02.11_Online-Dating_0-01.png [Accessed 16 Nov. 2016].

Schonfeld, E. (2007). Social Site Rankings (September, 2007). [online] TechCrunch. Available at: https://techcrunch.com/2007/10/24/social-site-rankings-september-2007/ [Accessed 16 Nov. 2016].

Thesnugg.com. (n.d.). A brief history of smartphones. [online] Available at: http://www.thesnugg.com/a-brief-history-of-smartphones.aspx [Accessed 16 Nov. 2016].

Wood, J. (n.d.). Social Media Timeline. [online] infoplease. Available at: http://www.infoplease.com/science/computers/social-media-timeline.html [Accessed 16 Nov. 2016].

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