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Four Years at the Mount

For this month, our writers reflected upon our dependence on social media sites and how it has negatively impacted our society. With warm weather approaching, we ought to vow to put down our phones and enjoy the sun!

Social Media - The Modern Echo Chamber

April 2016

Love at first click

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSN Class of 2019

I think that there are generally two very different reactions to online dating. Some approach it with euphoric optimism, believing that their soulmate flounders in cyberspace, just waiting to be found. Others balk at the opportunity, considering just their luck that they would fall for a foxy profile only to be duped by a creepy person hiding behind a phony account. Both outlooks have merit. Social mediaóand online dating in particularócan be a blessing for some and a nightmare for others. But what makes some online relationships click and others crumble? There is no perfect answer. While a lot of variables dictate the success or depreciation of online dating relationships, trends show that individuals who use online dating sites as resource to meet other people rather than a crutch to avoid face-to-face interaction reach more satisfying results. I believe that dishonesty and over reliance on social media are the two greatest downfalls to online dating relationships.

Particularly in a small town like Emmitsburg, online dating can be a great resource for singles to connect with a broad network of likeminded individuals and potential mates. Brendan Johnson, an Emmitsburg resident and online dater can attest to this benefit.

"Online dating was a great tool for my fiancťe and I to come together, but it was just that, a tool. When it's used to encourage face-to-face relationships, I think online dating can be a beautiful means of bringing people together. I used Catholic Match because faith is so integral to my life I felt it was disingenuous to go another route," stated Johnson.

Research shows that online communication generally leads to over four times the amount of self-disclosure than face-to-face interactions because the online communicators feel more anonymous -- and, therefore, more invincible -- behind the veil of a computer screen. Additionally, online dating resources provide a natural context for users to "cut to the chase" so to speak and begin substantive conversation about their relationship aspirations.

But online dating isnít all peaches and cream. Despite its inherent benefits, online dating spawns glaring disadvantages.

While online dating websites accomplish their goals in providing users with an abundance of potential mates, dating sites present an overwhelming amount of options. While it seems paradoxical that an online dating site provides users with "too many" easily accessible dating options, research shows that the extremely large variety of profiles can inhibit users from making confident selections. In other words, because there are so many eligible singles at the click of a button, users are able to identify suitable counterparts, but they can just as easily begin to question whether there are even better profiles just a few scrolls away. This creates somewhat of a "shopping mindset," that if one suitor flops, there are still thousands of other options at the click of a button.

A 27 year old single woman from Indiana expressed to me her concern for this very mindset.

"Now largely because of the influence of social media, [online dating] is viewed as trendy. Nevertheless, it is unnatural to know everything about someone in five minutes by viewing their profile, much like you would read off the ingredients of a grocery item, and make a decision from that so-called Ďdata.í

In addition to the "shopping mindset" that social media abets, deception poses another threat to relational well-being. A study conducted in 2001 found that over a quarter of online dating participants mischaracterized themselves in efforts to attract good-looking counterpart. Most common misrepresentations included age (14%), appearance (10%), and marital status (10%). The same study found that lying may cause a domino effect; in efforts to create a more "even playing field," people will lie to the degree in which they believe others are lying.

Typically, users of online dating sites lie about small things--such as saying that they are a few pounds lighter or a couple inches taller--so that the lie would not be detectable in a face-to-face interaction.

Online infidelity is perhaps the most drastic and devastating form of online deception. Because online dating sites cater to people seeking an array of romantic relationships including extramarital relationships, online infidelity is on the rise, and it is estimated that about 13% of male users are married. In fact, there are unfortunately some online dating websites that are dedicated solely to abetting extramarital affairs.

Online infidelity is more ambiguous than offline infidelity because of the limited amount of physical contact. Many users understand infidelity as engaging solely in physically romantic behavior with an extramarital partner. Under this misconception, sending sensual messages to a partner outside of oneís relationship does not qualify as dishonesty. This argument is faulted, however, because romantic infidelity includes investing in substantial emotional conversation as well as erotic activity in a relationship that is apart from oneís committed partner. Nevertheless, you can image how the lack of physical contact involved in social media can muddy the waters for some people.

Johnson, who serves in the Campus Ministry Department at Mount St. Maryís University, speaks staunchly against such heartbreaking dishonesty. Johnson says that dishonesty foils the timeless objectives of relationships.

"As long as these sites, and social media in general, are used to encourage deep encounters with persons, it really helps you along the goal of Theology of the Body - a deep, and real encounter with another person. Whether that person is God, a friend, or a romantic interest, these things all help you along the way. It's when you get stuck behind the screen and spend more time in your head than engaging in a life lived with others that the online dating, and social media in general lose their power to aid and trap us in superficial and unfulfilling relationships."

Online dating is a double-edged sword. The lack of nonverbal cues and the sense of anonymity liberates users to present more vulnerable information while also opening the door for deceit. Like almost anything, it canít be categorized as either solely beneficial or baneful. Instead, I believe that the userís mindset and the individuals they pursue dictate the joy of the experience. So take the condemnations in this article into consideration, but donít balk at the chance to fall in love at first click.

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.

An unsocial media

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

In our world, it seems as though you cannot hold a proper conversation with a person without the rest of the world being present. What I mean is that you see families or couples out to dinner and every single one of them is face down in their little handheld worlds, looking in on other people's lives instead on focusing on the world around them.

I have a perfect example of this. It was a Sunday morning at a local breakfast hot spot where my family sat discussing anything and everything. My father gestured to something behind me and said, "That looks like a Norman Rockwell painting." I turned my head and found myself agreeing with him. Two elderly gentlemen, sat across each other next to a window and bathed in a pool of sunlight. One of them was holding a newspaper out and seemed to be discussing the day's events with his companion. Several feet away sat two men about twenty years old. Like the old men, they say across each other, however they were basking in the bluish light of their phones. Their heads remained bowed and they did not exchange one word to each other and I believe their eyes did not glance up once from those little rectangles of light in their hands.

The contrast of these two images is alarming. You have one articulate, engaging, and full of the old-fashioned face-to-face conversation that values the exchange of ideas. The second features a sense of the cold disconnect some of the most recent generation struggle with in a technologically-focused culture. We meet in person, with dear friends, but spend the time looking at the 400 or so friendly strangers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

What is most appealing about social media, I think, is the fact that we can edit ourselves. We can put forth a profile that shows us as witty, fun, people who always have good hair days and not even one blemish. I know I do it all the time. My particular poison is Instagram. Every time I post a picture I look at it for a few minutes to think if I want people to see this, then I spend a few more minutes thinking of a witty caption that makes me seem intelligent and humorous. I know that in reality I am not half as clever as my little profile would make one believe. Social media gives us the ability to put a filter on all the unsavory screw-ups that make up our lives and show the world temporized versions of ourselves that we create.

Today we have an advantage of having so much information at our fingertips. However, the downside of this is that we are bombarded constantly by unreliable information that is coupled with an unwillingness to investigate further. One of the biggest faults I have is I often just read headlines and never bother to read the rest of the news story. I do not believe I am alone in this. It is easier to read the few words and think you have the "gist" of the following article, believe what argument the author will make and what position you will hold by the end of it. So, you skip ahead to the next headline and make a similar judgement. This is dangerous; we are turning into a society that is swayed by a few words and never bothers with the whole of the story.

Forgive me if all of this makes me sound like a pessimistic, crotchety, old person, but young people today, their phones, and social media addictions drive me up the wall. It surprises me how many people I see on their phone, doing heaven knows what to pass the time. While I admit to have fallen into this habit, I try to refrain from tapping away when conversing with someone or having dinner with my family; a courtesy that not many people consider.

What is ironic is that social media is rather unsocial. Sure, we can check in on friends and family far away from us, but most times, we use it to talk to people near to us to keep them both close and at armís length. We have discovered a way to cut out the need for actual human contact.

I would be lying, of course, if I claimed that I am never on my phone or social media. On the contrary, I find that I have at times fallen into the rabbit hole of the Internet. It is so easy to, currently because every answer is a few clicks away and the desire to be distracted seems to take the first place on our list of priorities. I see a growing generation with the longing to form connections with someone, anyone they feel can relate to them. What is truly unfortunate is that instead of seeking companionship with those around us, we try to find it in the throngs of strangers on the Internet. We share more with them then we do our closest friends and change is needed. Let us endeavor to put down our phones and face each other. Let us go, then, you and I and face the world around us instead of looking at it vicariously through our phones. Let us begin to live, not for the many followers, but for ourselves.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir

Supplemental social media

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

I wake up, get dressed, brush my teeth, and walk out into my living room. I sit on the couch, find the remote under a stack of newspapers, turn on the news and listen as I make a cup of coffee. I sit back down and spend the next 27 minutes catching up on the last twelve hours of happenings around the world. I go to classes and at lunchtime I open the local daily newspaper to supplement my pasta with more stories, articles, and editorials. I attend all my meetings, workout, and by 6 p.m. Iím back watching the news before sitting down to do homeworkĖ again absorbing twelve hours of information.

Okay, most of that was a lie. In reality, if I wake up before my alarm, I pick up my phone and scroll through Facebook or Instagram first. If something catches my eye, I then go to google and type in something resembling the headline to find more. I get out of bed, brush my teeth, and walk out of my room, walking right past the television every time. I close the door behind me and by the time I get to the stairs Iíve probably started to scroll through snapchat. Once I step outside of my dorm building, Iím less preoccupied by my phone, only checking it occasionally throughout the day, until I attend all my classes, make it through my to-do list, and am back in my room for the night. Once I lay down in my bed, I head back to Facebook, spending at least 20 minutes switching between social media sites on my phone, reading up on the day, catching up on what happened in the social media world while I existed in the real world. Once I put my phone down and set my alarm, if I canít sleep I probably check it a few more times before actually falling asleep.

Though the minutes I have spent on social media are spread throughout the day, I have probably opened more articles than I would have while reading a newspaper. I also probably found more stories and opinions than I would have watching TV for an hour, but I donít know if the quantity found on social media is worth the quality or lack thereof. On those days that I donít stop to watch the news, I miss clips, stories, and ideas that havenít been through the filter of friendsí opinions, offensive comments, thousands of shares, and havenít been subjected to what my friends deem is important enough to share. This is, in my mind, the single greatest issue to educating oneself on global news via social media Ė this filter.

I have almost no control over the filter of my own news; sure I can choose to click on some articles and not on others, but with social media as a primary news source, I am at the mercy of my "friends."

If my aunt chooses to switch her support from Ted Cruz to another presidential candidate, Iíd lose probably 50% of my immediate access to articles, photos, and videos of Cruz. If my friends lost their investment in the environment, I can almost guarantee I would never see another article about pollution in the Chesapeake Bay again. Without the news, newspapers, and free searching of the internet, my timeline becomes my reality.

This filter has even deeper consequences when it concerns an issue with more than one side. If my timeline is bombarded with anti-Clinton propaganda shared under a status expressing how horrible she is, my mind is already ready to hear what she did or said wrong before even letting the article load. Because social media lends to personal opinions so overwhelmingly, this is a major problem. Now, not only are the articles filtered by friendsí interests and beliefs, but they are prefaced with opinions.

If every person on social media shared posts prefacing them with "This is important, regardless of my opinion" or anything of the sort, maybe my timeline wouldnít seem so biased. If each person were to share links and articles of all sorts and categories regardless of what peaks their interest, maybe my timeline wouldnít have such gaps. Fortunately for our own freedom of expression, but unfortunately for my news intake, neither of these are realities.

With all of this information, I still donít know the answer. Social media is convenient, easy to maneuver, and gives each person scrolling through a valid starting point for their own news search. However, the filter of each personís timeline and the black-hole like nature of Facebook limits the pros of the media site and leads more to the mindless scrolling I do while lying in bed or waiting for class to begin.

Yet still, I donít know the solution. The benefits of social media persuade me to keep it, but the news I end up missing and misreading lend to the opposite cause. For now, Iím in search of a happy medium. Iíll probably still look to Instagram and Facebook when I wake up to find out what has been happening in the world, but only as a supplement to my own news search and time spent reading and watching the news. As a supplement, I donít see an issue with social media as a news source, but because of the biased and opinionated filters, it cannot stand alone.

If social media starts to stand alone, our timelines will overwhelm our minds and our own thoughts about the world will be influenced solely by the opinions of our friends. This thought is not only prevalent, but it is also incredibly frightening to think about. Our lives on social media should represent us, but should in no way influence our real lives. Similar to every single aspect of social media, using it as a news source should be done sparingly and wisely. I have, admittedly, fallen into the pit that is my Facebook page, but the overwhelming biases and gaps in information continue to direct me back to the real world.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary

Rose-colored glasses

Katie Powell
MSM Class of 2015

Senior year of college is the worst time to own a social media account. Seriously, it is. Everyone feels so terrified of the future that as soon as they have something, anything, to post in regards to next fall, it is on there. They donít post about the nights they cried over it, the shakiness during their interview, or the family member who works for the company that just hired them. On top of that, if you follow celebrities, their accounts are full of beautiful pictures, famous friends, the new business they opened, and just general pictures of success. As a senior whose post-grad plans were flipped upside down, I have had to spend a great deal of time becoming okay with myself. What I have learned is that you cannot believe everything you see on Facebook.

As of right now I do not have a plan for after I graduate in one month. I have a summer job lined up, but come September, as of right now, I will not be in graduate school, and I will not have a job in my majoróI might not even have a job at all.

I am okay with that. This may be a shock to you; it sounds like I have no future and that I donít care about it, but I promise you that that is not the case, and here is why.

I care so deeply about what it is that I choose to do with my life that I am not okay with settling for anything less. I have decided that I want to dedicate my time to occupational therapy. Not getting into a program was not an option that I had considered, but it was one that I was forced to take. I looked into other routesóPublic Health, Gerontology, Thanatology . . . I started the applications and filled in my name, my GPA, and requested my transcripts six times to be sent to those programs. I am hoping to continue my education this fall, even if it is not in OT school, because I know my worth, I value my future, and I know that I have a very long time in the workforce ahead of me.

I know that I am destined for great thingsóand I know that we all are too. I am hoping to inspire everyone to look at his or her life and evaluate if you are where you want to be, and if not, to take the chance and go for it. I am constantly putting myself down when I look at other peopleís lives, forgetting my own accomplishments and their downfalls. We all undervalue ourselves because of what we see on TV and the Internet, forgetting that it takes insane luck and talent to get into the limelight. We all compare ourselves to the best of the best. But the majority of the world is not like thatóviewing yourself as mediocre in comparison to actors is entirely inaccurate and unfair to you. Even comparing yourself to your coworkers and classmates is wrong. The only person you need to try to be better than is the person you were a year ago. As long as you keep improving upon yourself, thereís no reason to doubt your abilities.

One of the biggest reasons we struggle with our own self worth is because of all the troubles of social media. A personís profile is only a version of their actual life. Social media in itself can actually be considered a parallel universeóone in which only the best happens to everyone, and everyone gets 4.0s and gets jobs, no one has anxiety or depression, and certainly no one ever has a bad day at work or school. It is all a front; a trap that people set up so that you donít ask about what is wrong, because you donít know something is wrong.

I am the number one victim of this. I fall into it the trap all the time, seeing a personís heavily edited and filtered profile pictures, sharing the article they wrote for their new blog, posting a screenshot of their 4.0, again. What they donít post is their insecurityóthe reason behind the beautiful photo. They donít post their years struggling to learn to read and write. They donít post the mental breakdowns, the years of terrible grades through high school, or anything else that got them to where they are. They post their perfections, but not all the work it took to get there.

Lately I have sworn off social media for this reason. I am an open and honest person; if what I am posting on Facebook ignores part of the truth I donít post it. I leave my grades out of the equation entirely because they reflect my struggles and my successes, not those of anyone else. Of course, I post photos of the events I attend, and I only make my best photos my profile picture, but I am still mindful of those around me. I know what it feels like to look at a personís profile and feel entirely inferior to them. That is what I felt throughout my entire first senior semester, as the rejection letters flew in one by one. However, as I said in the beginning of the article I am content with what my future is right now. I recognize the rose colored glasses of social media are not to be worn; I take every post I read with a grain of salt. I know what it is that I want to do, and I am doing everything I can to get there. If that means that my Facebook profile wonít include screenshots of my Grad school schedule this fall, so be it. I will get there when I get there.

Read other articles by Katie Powell

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