Social media has taken a prominent place in our lives, to the point that it’s difficult to imagine how we ever got through a work day without it. This change happened incredibly fast, leading to mixed reactions. While some people herald social media as a platform of connectedness, others insist that it actually isolates us from each other. As always, the truth is more nuanced than that. In order to clarify the effects of social media, scientists often consider two different concepts: Bridging and Bonding.
Bridging & Bonding
Last year, the Washington post reported a heartwarming story of two strangers who met via the Scrabble-like phone game Words with Friend. Despite a large difference in age and background, they connected with each other over this online game and, after hundreds of matches, met each other in real life to cement their friendship.
This wholesome story is a great example of how social media can bridge and bond people together. Bridging refers to new ties made between people. Like when two people are randomly paired up to play a game of Words with Friends, social media platforms help you find new contacts and extend your current network. Bridging, however, limits itself to loose connections and weak ties that lack investment. That’s where bonding comes in.
Bonding refers to the strengthening of existing relationships, so that they provide substantive emotional support for an individual. Sharing pictures, telling stories, or simply chatting with each other while playing a game of online scrabble, can all help you bond with other people online.
Thinking about social media in these two terms helps to understand its effects on a more detailed level. You may recognize that some platforms of social media are meant mostly for bridging with unacquainted people, such as Twitter or Tumblr. Other platforms encourage you to expand upon existing relationships, such as Facebook (where you have to accept friend requests before connecting). Distinguishing these two aims is important in order to understand the effects that social media can have on its users.
How do you use social media?
Are you bridging to unknown people and extending your network? Or do you deepen your existing ties and bond with friends? Just like the answer to the question whether social media is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s probably a little bit of both.