Can Intimacy Be Created Through Social Media?

Rhett Smith, who is a family therapist, pastor to youth and families, and a guy who spends a good bit of time thinking about how technology impacts our relationships raises a great topic on his blog today in a post titled, Are We Fooling Ourselves To Think Intimacy Can Be Created Online Through Social Media?

His post focuses on the difference between self-revelation and self-presentation.  To summarize, self-revelation is letting people see who we really are, which is essential for intimacy.  Self-presentation is projecting an image of how we want people to see us, which is the antithesis of intimacy, because it hides who we really are.

So, the issue is whether social media can foster self-revelation which produces intimacy or whether it just fosters self-presentation which lacks intimacy.

Self-Presentation in Social Media

When we post to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, we choose what we want to reveal and we leave out what we don’t in order to project the image we want people to have of us, whether it’s funny, authoritative, spiritual, wise, high-class, connected, or whatever.

In fact we not only choose what we reveal, but we choose how we reveal it by the words, tone, and symbols we use.

Rhett makes the point that even those who strive to be humble and authentic are still choosing to self-present themselves in that way.

Of course, this happens offline as well.  We all wear masks when we’re with other people and choose what about ourselves we reveal and how we characterize those things.  So, my question is…

Do you think online interactions are more prone to self-presentation than offline interactions.  If so, why?

But before you respond, I want to throw out a few thoughts.

First, it’s been said that in a conversation only 7% of the communication is the actual words used, the other 93% is tone of voice, gestures, and body language.  When we communicate through social media we’re only communicating the 7%.  And even if you’re a prolific Facebooker or Twitter, you’re likely to communicate a few hundred words a day via social media compared to the thousands of words we speak each day. In the end, only a very small percentage of what we communicate makes it through our internal filters onto social media.  That makes our social media communication much more likely to be controlled and thus self-presentation.

Second, usually when we think of social media with think of posts to Facebook and Twitter.  These are public communications to hundreds or even thousands of people.  Imagine in the real world if you were to stand up and say something in front of hundreds or thousands of people.  It would probably be pretty well thought out.  It would tend to be self-presentation.  So, comparing public social media posts to the offline relationships we develop in small group and one-on-one settings is not really a fair comparison.  We should also consider emails, private messages, and posts to private groups, which I would argue are much more self-revealing and intimate.

Third, if you consider blogs to be a part of social media, they are one online setting where self-revelation and depth of thought may exceed the offline world.  How often do you have conversations like this about relationships and technology offline?  Or take for example, the post I wrote Tuesday Digging Deep: Leading When You Have No Energy.  There are not many people whom I’ve been that self-revealing with offline.

So, now that I’ve said my piece, let me throw it back to you…

Do you think online interactions are more prone to self-presentation than offline interactions.  If so, why?

Do you think it’s possible to develop intimacy online through social media?

[image by napalmnikki]

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

5 Responses to “Can Intimacy Be Created Through Social Media?”

  1. No & Yes- No because like to be truly intimate involving a lot more than words. Mind out the gutter please . .lol I mean eye contact, blushing, posture, holding hands, hugging, and facial expressions- of love, interest, anger, and so on. . .but for those who are away from loved ones, family and friends it can be a needed and very comforting thing.

  2. Social Media allows for intimacy where physical distance does not allow offline interaction.
    but I don't think online will ever supersede offline intimacy (which I see as an honest and open relationship).
    Also Social media posses the problem of masking your true self. Your character and could possibly lead to assuming fake roles. Which will counter intimacy.
    But I think that people engage differently online; I for one would never be able to have a conversation like this offline, because of typical interruptions by stronger personality types.

  3. I believe one of the big attractions to Facebook and Twitter is that you can "tidy up" yourself online. It's possible to build up the positive character traits whilst playing down the negative. There is a certain safety in being able to hide part of ones character. Hope that makes sense.

  4. I think that social media can be a good way to connect with families and friends. It is also a good way to meet new friends. Although it can create intimacy at some point, it still cannot replace intimacy physically.

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