Kristie Groff used to check the weather when she woke up in the morning. Then she bought a Smartphone.
“I’d scroll through Facebook and twitter before I got out of bed,” Groff says.
The Iowa City parent of two thought nothing of this new habit, until it started infringing on her family.
“We were scrambling to get to places on time because a minute checking something on my phone turned into 10,” she says.
Groff deactivated her Facebook account six months ago. She quit twitter, too. It wasn’t easy, but Groff says her decision to disconnect allows her to really connect with friends and family.
“I was worried I’d miss out on things but looking back, I think I was missing out on my life,” she says.
Can someone plugged in to social media miss out on life? After all, more than 1 billion people have profiles on Facebook. Google+ boasts more than 400 registered users and WordPress plays host to more than 74 million blogs. Twitter has more than 140 million users and interest in Pinterest continues to climb, with the latest numbers exceeding 20 million users.
“We have this need to connect, to reach out to people,” says Shari Goldsmith, owner of Life Coach for Women and author of “31 days to Finding Your Inner Sass – Shortcuts to Girlfriend Happiness.”
But reaching out through cyberspace, rather than picking up the phone or meeting a friend for lunch, can be polarizing.
We’ve all seen it: the couple at a restaurant who look at their phones instead of each other or the Facebook friend who updates her status every 30 minutes. There’s the person you get along with so well on tumblr – but can’t connect with in real life – and that family member who sits on the other end of the couch, scrolling through twitter updates during family time.
Susan Buniva, a licensed therapist in Richmond, Va., says the need to be seen and heard is inherent at birth. Social media feeds that want, but with mixed results.
“We put something out on Facebook and we may get some response from our 600 closest friends, but it turns out to feel rather hollow,” Buniva says. “That’s not the foundation for an intimate connection. It’s really more of an illusion.”
An illusion that can have devastating results as the need to share every aspect of life can lead to constant status updates that not only make a person look needy, it borderlines on privacy issues.
“I’m constantly surprised by what people will post online,” Goldsmith says.
Personal information a person would normally share during an intimate conversation is shared with hundreds, maybe thousands, of followers. We can see the reactions online, but we don’t know how this update affected the poster’s personal life at home.
Relationship counselors like Dr. Carl Hindy do.
Hindy, a clinical psychologist in Nashua, N.H., and co-author of “If This Is Love Why Do I Feel So Insecure?” calls Facebook and other social media sites “the guardrail of relationships.” A marriage might be experiencing some hardship but it isn’t until one spouse, or even both, uses social media to reach out to someone from their past that the couple seeks help.
“It’s the warning light,” Hindy says. “It brings people in and we deal with these issues before they become bigger catastrophes.”
Hindy isn’t seeing as many long-term affairs as he did in the 1980s and 1990s, but more short-term affairs or one-time straying. All betrayals hurt, but couples ensnared in years of lies and cheating have more to come back from than those chatting with an old love online.
“We have 10 times more fender benders than we used to, but only one fatal accident,” Hindy says.
It’s not just the personal information that can strain relationships, but the ease in which people can use social media to connect to their past. After all, one of the benefits of social media is that it keeps you in constant contact with friends and family, whether you saw them today or 10 years ago.
“I don’t know what it would be like trying to keep in touch with the people who moved away for college without it,” says Kayla Roling, who was a high school student when Facebook first came on the scene.
Originally from Tiffin, Roling moved to North Carolina in August. Facebook helps her stay in contact with loved ones in Iowa, but she notes there are drawbacks to 24/7 communication.
“I think class reunions and such won’t be nearly as important as they are for the older generations because it is so easy to keep up and see what is going on in people’s lives,” Roling says.
With just a few clicks of the mouse, you can reach out to an old friend, a former roommate and a past love with ease, bringing the “What if?” question to light – sort of.
Social media profiles are highly edited. We choose what we want the world to see, from photos and biographies to status updates and tweets. There are some individuals who air all of their dirty laundry, but most people choose what they want others to see, which can make anyone seem attractive, especially when someone isn’t happy in their real life.
“Social media allows people to distract themselves,” says Dr. Rachel Needle, a licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist from West Palm Beach, Fla. “It allows people to choose when to be connected and when to disconnect from those physically present and from their life”.
Needle is in the process of an institutional review board-approved study examining the effects of social networking on relationships. (Click here to take her survey.) She understands the benefits of social media – it helps people re-connect; we’re able to connect easily; and it can be beneficial for shy or socially anxious individuals – but says it can be harmful to relationships when couples choose social media over personal connections.
“We are confusing digital intimacy with real intimacy,” she says.
That doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on social media altogether. Needle says communication is the key to balancing real living with online profiles. Couples especially need to talk about what’s OK to share and what isn’t.
“Couples need to ask ‘What do both of us feel comfortable with?’” Needle says.
“Everything in moderation,” Goldsmith adds. “One of the things we’re doing in today’s world is we’re constantly multitasking instead of being in the moment. We need to re-learn how to focus on one thing, one person and one moment. We need to make a point to physically connect with each other and not use social media as a replacement.”