Many people, including me, feel a sort of social obligation of reciprocity. If I receive a holiday card from a co-worker, I in turn, send one to them. If my husband and I get invited to the next door neighbor’s for beer and barbeque, we will certainly, at some time in the near future, return the invitation. It’s an unwritten law (that is actually written in no end of places) which many, if not most of us, follow.
But what about social media? Are we consciously obligated to the same age-old rules when it comes to our digital communications? For instance, if an old high school friend that I hardly know sends me a Christmas card, I will most likely send one back to them. No harm, no foul. But if that same high school acquaintance asks me to be friends on Facebook, will I be as quick to accept? Should I be?
The dilemma is, as I see it, a matter of exposure and/or preservation of privacy. There is no risk in sending an innocuous card, but once let into my online life, I open myself up to that person in ways inappropriate for our level of familiarity.
And what about kids? All parents have probably consoled a devastated child at one time or another when they found out they were not invited to a certain other child’s birthday party. Does it bear the same level of rejection and hurt feelings when Susie “friends” everyone in her class except Jill? Another characteristic of social media is that it empowers us. It’s like our drug of choice in a way, as it gives us strength and courage that we do not otherwise possess when sitting across a conference table from someone. This power, in the hands of children, can be very dangerous, as they are not aware nor do they care, about the social reciprocity theory.
As the usage of social media sites continues to skyrocket within all segments of the population, these are certainly issues that will work themselves out. Until then, I guess we just have to live and learn – or like and poke, as it were!