Cell Phones and Virtual Friendships

Posted on Posted in Teaching Moments

Since cell phones and social media became expected mediums of communication, I have engaged in conversations with young people about the importance of regulating cell phone and social media usage.  Before the days of “unlimited minutes,” I generally associated the word usage with the number of talk minutes I used.  When my kids got old enough for us to talk about usage, we generally talked about the number of text messages they sent and received.  This too was before the days of “unlimited texting.”  My kids and I also had many talks about the use of data too before the unlimited use plans were introduced.  At that time (before unlimited cell phone plans), I didn’t imagined that an app would connect us to communities with potentially unlimited community members.

I have always been the first to say that I am not an expert when it comes to understanding the science of or possibilities available to one using any social media platform.  Honestly, I didn’t believe I needed to know all there might be to know because my children understood those things.  When my children hadn’t perfected their social media skills, I solicited the assistance or my adult friends obsessed with social media to “friend” and “follow” my kids.  However, now I work with college students and I work at my blogging communication business trying to understand social media and the impact social media has had and that it can have on our lives.  This curiosity about the benefits of social media became increasingly more important to me.  The accepted norm led me to deem it necessary to commit my insights about technology to print.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Most of the young people I know comfortably carry on an in person verbal chat and an electronic messaging chats simultaneously. I can’t do those two things at once without difficulty.
  • I never hear a millennial say anything like this, “Hey, hold up just a second. Let me return this text.”  I do that very thing often.
  • The millennial folks in my world struggle with separation from their phones and their virtual communities. I tend to be fine without these added voices in my head.
  • I find myself a little frustrated when the millennial won’t take the time to teach me how to create a post that people will “like.” My trial and error methods, in my opinion, wouldn’t be necessary if the young ones graciously devoted the time to me that I have generously given or would generously give to them if they had a challenge.
  • Deactivating a social media account, even temporarily, can tell you something about your “friend” circle. I did that.  I only told my immediate family and a few coworkers.  After about two weeks, only one person has sent a text to ask what happened to my page.

Most of my life, my closest friends knew they could find me by calling my mom’s house.  Now, my closest friends have my phone numbers and they know things that are not to be shared on any social media platform.  I often tell students to “unfollow” and “unfriend” other people so that the students can separate from the unhealthy relationships and gain control of the messaging they allow to enter their spaces.  I have found that some students felt freedom and empowerment by separating from the virtual “friendship.”  On the other hand, I have seen students feel what I will liken to separation anxiety.  Cell phones, notifications, and the apps that created our expanded friend circles trained our brains to crave the relationships.  Some are in need of attention for themselves, to monetize their businesses, and others to keep in touch with friends, old and new.  Weirdly, these virtual communities felt as real to me the day I decided to deactivate one of my social media accounts.  I didn’t even check it every day or post on it every day, but I somehow felt connected to the page and the people were my “friends” or who “liked” my business page.  I began to understand the complicated perplexed looks I got from students when asked to separate from “friends.”  I really felt that I was in a predicament.  I knew what I needed to do, but I wondered what would happen if I clicked the button that closed the virtual door in the faces of my friends.  I want my audience to know that I survived my decision.  My decision did not upset the world balance and I didn’t lose any sleep.  Although you may have some reservations about taking healthy steps to protect your physical or virtual head space, do it any way and give yourself permission to take a break from the cluttered virtual communities.  Believe me, you can get right back to it when you are ready to do so.  I may wait to reactivate my page after I hear from a certain number of friends in the old fashion way.

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