It is interesting that, the more people get involved with social media, the more they seem to think of it as literal. That is, even as people understand the virtual nature of the interactions and the friendships, these elements themselves take on a more “real” quality as the involvement goes on. What occurs is that there is a sense of social media activity as almost identical to literal socializing, in terms of the value attached to it. This is understandable but removed from reality itself. While there are definite similarities between social media and real life social activity, the differences are so important, it is not rational to think of the two as essentially the same.
On a basic level, there is no denying that social media is attractive for people for the same reasons they interact in real life. Humans are social animals and we usually enjoy sharing experiences with others, maintaining friendships, and making new ones. All of this is offered by social media, with the added advantage of access to others not possible in real life. For many users, this is then an expansion of a behavior they rely upon, as the media “brings everyone together” in a sense. Just as a person will enjoy a large party, so too will they enjoy mixing with so many others in this casual venue. This similarity is perhaps the strongest between the two activities, simply because it is all about socializing. If social media has an even greater attraction, then, and one going to people actually favoring it over real life interactions, it is likely due to the greatly expanded access to others offered by the media.
At the same time, there are differences that are important, and go to why social media is inherently removed from literal socializing. For example, studies support that many users feel more connected or fulfilled in social media because the arena allows them to be their “real selves.” There is no need to modify feelings or opinions, as happens in literal encounters, simply because the medium is not literal (Margalit 187). If this is understandable, it nonetheless distances social media from real life interacting because it relies on the barrier of the virtual. There is more freedom of expression, but only because the arena is less “real” and consequently less demanding.
There is no doubt that Facebook and Twitter users very much enjoy maintaining friendships and family relationships through the media. This is the primary reason people give for being a part of it. However, there is another element here separating this ordinary human motivation practiced in media and in real life. The research revealing that users like Facebook because it connects them with friends, family, and new people also supports that they turn to it very much for entertainment purposes (Albarran 180). Once again, the factor of distance provided by the virtual essence of the media brings a quality not necessarily present in literal socializing. In real life, the person who only observes is unusual, and is actually defying socializing; with the “shield” of the social media in place, they may be invisible and take in everything presented from the safety of non-commitment. When people indicate that social media is much the same for them as real life, then, they are forgetting how it allows them to create as much distance as they like, and only observe the activity of their friends.
The immense popularity of social media makes perfect sense. It is a remarkably wide arena in which people may connect in any number of ways, so it is very easy to think of it as nearly identical to real life socializing. This is not a valid perception, however, simply because it ignores the enormous quality of social media as virtual, and consequently offering opportunities for control not possible in real life. Just as users are enabled to more freely express themselves in the media, so too may they log in only to observe and be entertained, and life is not that accommodating. Ultimately, then, there are definite similarities between social media and real life socializing, but the differences are so important, the two cannot be reasonably viewed as being the same.