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What Good Is Social Media, Anyway?

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.


Chris Grace: Hey, it's good to be back with another podcast from the Art of Relationships. Tim, one of the things that we should talk about that seems to have an impact on relationships over time that maybe we talk more negatively than positively, and that's the role of social media.

Tim Muehlhoff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Grace: Being connects and its impact on relationships. What do you think? You want to talk about?

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, it's funny, Chris. I did a search in preparation for this, and it was running I'd say five to one negative to positive.

Chris Grace: Oh.

Tim Muehlhoff: You could find positive about positive things about social media and relationships and marriage. But without a doubt, it was five to one negative, like how social media hurts a marriage, how social media blah blah blah. And things like that. So, it's definitely skewed a little bit. That's why we kind of thought we'd take this tow.

Chris Grace: What's the blah blah blah? Just real quickly. Well, disconnect.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, disconnect. It makes you a poor listener. You're not attentive anymore.

Chris Grace: Good, could you repeat those? I really wasn't paying attention. I was looking at, I got a text.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, those kind of things are there. And again, we don't want to deny those. We've actually talked about those in previous podcasts.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: We thought that we'd take a little bit of a different perspective.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: And that we would just quickly take a look at, hey, but there are some positive things about social media that can help us as individuals as well as help our relationship and marriages.

Chris Grace: There's so much out there when it comes to the blah, blah, the negative impacts, right? I know this might date it a little bit, but recently in the social media world and in the, I guess in the news world, there was a report, and a guest listening Kanye West talking about hey people are really feeling a lot of pressure in social media to get likes. And we ought to remove the like button-

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, isn't that interesting.

Chris Grace: And a number of followers from it, because one of the problems, Tim, is it seems like people are putting a lot of stress, effort, energy and emotional, I guess, feelings toward how many people liked what I just posted? Did anybody see it? And when I get a certain number, it makes me feel better. But on the opposite, of course, it makes me feel bad when nobody likes my posts. So, I think that's kind of coming out there as one of the negatives, right, that maybe we do some things that we could easily fix, and there might be some momentum building to remove some of the metrics that show number of followers, number of likes, and.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, two quick thoughts: One, I love that you quoted Kanye West. My view of you is being hip, cool, relevant just went up a ton, so hey, kudos to you.

Chris Grace: There we go.

Tim Muehlhoff: I think Tupac would be proud. Second, yeah I've gotten on social media, Chris. I'm author, some of you know that. And my publisher said, "Would you create an author page for Facebook?" So I did that. And let me say, immediately, I saw the good and the bad of social media.

Chris Grace: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: It reminds me of a Neil Postman quote. Postman was this interesting writer in the 1960s who kind of knew this was all coming down the pike. He wrote a great book called Amusing Ourselves to Death speaking mostly about television. This was pre-social media. Then he wrote a wonderful book called Technopoly, and in it he said, "Every technology's both a burden and a blessing."

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Not either or, but this and that. So, when I went on social media, Facebook, the good was, Chris, it's really amazing that it connects you to a ton of people.

Chris Grace: Oh yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: I mean, people who I had not spoken to since college, which I think is really cool. Here's the bad: When they do contact you, and you click on their icon, you go to their Facebook page. And there, it is the greatest hits. It is the greatest things that have happened to me. There's no bad days. There's no bad photographs. You would think that everybody's lives are just tip-top shape, and it's easy for you to look at your life and say, "Well, certainly mine isn't as consistently great as what I'm seeing." So, that's what we're dealing with in this podcast, Chris, is what Neil Postman said. It's a burden and a blessing, probably at the exact same time.

Chris Grace: Yeah. And we want to talk about the positives. Just one more point too, about that, Tim, the negatives. There are interesting problems from my field of social psychology when it comes to social media. I think these need to be talked about more. But one of them is this bias that we have in the way we think in that once we're exposed to some thing, some idea, we tend to believe the likelihood of that event and it happening to us. So, for example: It's so easy for some event to happen in some far away corner or some place. Let's say it's a negative event. Somebody gets beat up or hurt by a stranger.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right.

Chris Grace: We are not more likely to believe ourselves, because we've just seen it, that we have a greater likelihood of being hurt by a stranger, right?

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, okay.

Chris Grace: So, people that, you'll ask them, "What are you afraid of?" Many people will say, oh for example, flying. "Why?" "It's because the likelihood of me, I've seen that plane crash and I just fear flying." Well, that fear can be sometimes biased in that you're more likely to die on the airport in your car, odds are, right, more people die in car crashes every single day than die in the plane crash that would happen that particular year. But there's, so all these tendencies are I see something on social media, and I'm more likely to believe it can happen to me, and so I increase the number of odds that I believe may befall me. I may get attacked by a stranger. This event that happened with this particular thing, natural event, could very likely happen to me. And so, that's I guess one of the ways that being connected, being aware, can actually lead to some biases that-

Tim Muehlhoff: That's good.

Chris Grace: People have to be very cautious of.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, when the kids were young, there was a show on, I know there's a popular show today called 9-1-1, a drama. But this was a half hour show that was actual 9-1-1 calls. So, I would listen to it, and Chris, Noreen, my wife, forbid me to listen to it. Because you listen to a 9-1-1, "my child is choking on peanuts." I'm like, "Noreen! No more peanuts! Get the peanuts out of the house!" Another one was, the puppy scratched this kid's cornea and he's blind, I'm like, "Noreen!"

Chris Grace: "Get the puppy out!"

Tim Muehlhoff: "Get the puppy out!" Right. So Noreen was like, "Honey, chill."

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: But that's exactly what you're talking about. You hear about all these one-in-a-million things and you're like, suddenly I think this could possibly happen.

Chris Grace: Yeah. And we call it this heuristic, what's called the availability heuristic, which just simply means that I pull in these things that make sense to me based upon their availability to my mind, to my thoughts, and kind of see a picture or a story, and what's happening for you is you're seeing these stories, and they're immediately there, when in reality those odds are so great. So, there are some negatives that can easily come into play. So, let's talk specifically about, go ahead.

Tim Muehlhoff: I was going to say in calm [inaudible], the puppy scratched my eye out-

Chris Grace: No.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's ideology. We're just a little bit more simpler in our terms.

Chris Grace: [inaudible]. So, we simply now know there's some positives to what this ability is to stay connected. Tim, when you see people talking on phones, texting all the time, a lot of people think oh my gosh, look they're disconnecting from others. But in reality, what they're doing is they're connecting to the people they want to be connected with. Maybe they're riding on a bus, a train, a car, a plane, and they're staying in contact with people that they actually want to stay in contact, rather than with people around them. It has good and bad sides to it.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, absolutely.

Chris Grace: But it doesn't mean they're disengaged.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's right. And I would say, we have different levels of communication. One is emphatic communication. This is the big dramatic type of communication that we have. There's also something called phatic, which is these little snippets of conversation that you have throughout a day. We actually know from com theory is that it's the small conversations that set the table for the big conversations. So, let me say this: And you know my phone, Chris, you laugh at my phone. You openly mock my phone. I'm a technological leper. I have a flip phone, and but I can text with it. So, I would argue that with my kids, my connectiveness with my kids actually improved through texting. Because now I just send them quick little silly things or ask them how they're doing, "I'm praying for your test." I now have two kids in grad school we still text.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: And we keep in touch. That texting can, I would agree that it'd be really hard to have in-depth, let's really talk about something that's bothering you conversation via texting. But I think the small little texts and the connectivity really does set up for big conversations. So, I love texting my kids, my wife with silly jokes and things.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Sometimes I just text them, "'kay." It's like 'kay, and they go, "Dad, you're not hip." And I go, "'kay." Right? Kind of a thing like that. So, I think that's great.

Chris Grace: Tim, it's very interesting, technology is now kind of getting to a point where screens are bendable, and guess what's making a comeback? Flip phones. They are now believing that these bendable screens are now going to bring back these flip phones in such a way. So, actually you're maybe staying ahead of the curve with this whole thing.

Tim Muehlhoff: I'm like Kanye West. I am the Kanye West-

Chris Grace: Of cell phones.

Tim Muehlhoff: I am hip, cool, and relevant.

Chris Grace: Okay, so there are some ways then, and these positive roles that social media can play in relationships. Right?

Tim Muehlhoff: Absolutely.

Chris Grace: And so, there are some really good things out there to be thinking about. So, what advice would you give as we talk about this, when it comes to relationships and the use of things like social media? What do you have since?

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, let me say this about Facebook. Facebook, and now listen, I get why it's addictive. I mean, you start to click on these different icons, you're catching up on people you have not seen since high school, college, well that could be very isolating for Noreen who's not on Facebook. So, for me, I bring her into my world. I say to her, "Oh honey, come here. This is Robin and Jim. Oh my gosh. My car was broken down one time on the streets of Detroit, and I called the husband at like three in the morning, and he came and brought an alternator and swapped it out and [inaudible] back home." So, to bring her in on it, right? Where this could be really isolating. But to say to Noreen, "Oh come here, let me introduce you to this family." And that kind of stuff is, so make them a part of it. Not just an isolating fact where I'm on my laptop, Noreen's on her laptop, and we never really talk to each other.

Chris Grace: Yeah, so then what can very well be one of the negatives is this isolating possibility that is in order for me to concentrate on something, human brains really designed in relationships, but in general, I guess you can say, better yet we're designed to pay attention to a couple of things. I could think two thoughts. As we're sitting here talking, I might be processing what I might be doing later tonight, or there could be other things going on.

Tim Muehlhoff: What?

Chris Grace: But at the same time-

Tim Muehlhoff: With the Kanye West of podcasting? Your mind is wandering?

Chris Grace: One problem is that our brains are also designed to only pick up and remember one of those tracks. And so therefore, we tend to focus that which we are paying attention to tends to go into our memories, right? The reason social media can be isolating or problematic is that it draws me away from an interaction with somebody. And what you're kind of pointing to is no, make this an opportunity to bring in the other person to show and to share with them, if you're on this one particular Facebook page and liking. Its kind of a great way to enhance. So, there are others. Go ahead.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, another one would be, it's really a cool, lik we've talked about on previous podcasts, it's just really important to praise people publicly.

Chris Grace: Ah, it's a good one. Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, this one, I have two kids in grad school, right? One's studying to be a physical therapist, one's in law school. But when they announced where they were going, I posted it on my Facebook page and just praised them, saying hey it's so cool to see their dedication to get into these schools. I know it's going to be tough sledding. But both of them are great. Noreen just had a birthday. So, just posting that and saying, "Hey, let me add my voice to the plethora of other voices praising [inaudible] Muehlhoff, and that's kind of cool.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: And then show it to your spouse, or they get it in their Facebook feed.

Chris Grace: I think Tim, it can bring up one way in which this could actually be such a reinforcing or positive, I guess relational effort to bring in the purposeful praising of, or lifting up and encouraging somebody else.

Tim Muehlhoff: Absolutely.

Chris Grace: Right? And so, for some people doing that face-to-face may be kind of difficult. Like it's sometimes hard to be able to praise somebody, and "Hey, I heard this great news about you, and I want you to, this guy who made this comment, and he really thought highly of you, and I just wanted to share that with you." That's sometimes hard for people to do that face-to-face.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right.

Chris Grace: And this could be, so it's a great way to free a person up who might maybe be a little bit intimidated or shy or not be able to say, but really wants to share what a great way to encourage and lift up somebody.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and it doesn't have to be either or. Do both.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh my gosh, do both.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: And I think when you show your spouse your Facebook post, say, "Hey you happen to be the subject of today's," and they're like, "What?" And show it to them. You're doing that both privately and publicly.

Chris Grace: Yeah. Tim, I think another benefit that oftentimes gets overlooked is, frankly when we're in a room together, it's easy for some people to kind of dominate the conversation, to be a little bit able to share stories and jokes and laugh and have fun. And there are other people who just simply are not comfortable doing that. Social media's a way for them to feel liberated to, they're not the most outgoing. They're a little bit shy in the room, but when they can get online, they can do that same kind of thing, and kind of almost find it like, "Oh, this is easier." And it's still good.

Tim Muehlhoff: We're learning this about online education.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Is that some, I have some students, you know this Chris.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: You have some students in your class who never say anything. I mean it is crickets. And then you get some students who raise their hand every single time.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: But online education has shown us that there's some students who'd excel in a chat room.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: They would excel if they just had the uninterrupted space to get their thoughts out there. So, you mentioned this once before, Chris, maybe you can reiterate this.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: But you were talking one time about a couple that I think they were struggling about something, and he was particularly struggling to get his thoughts out and then you suggested they actually write each other emails.

Chris Grace: Yeah. That's right.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: Well, what happened was they simply, he would feel overwhelmed when his spouse would bring up these issues that she wanted to talk about, and she could just, as a processor, an external processor, she could just list them out. There's a bunch. And the only thing he began to feel was flooded.

Tim Muehlhoff: Sure.

Chris Grace: Physiologically overwhelmed, like, "Oh my gosh. I could barely answer number one, and you're on number eight." So, we recommended that they take some time and write it down, and it really worked out well, Tim, because here's what he did: He was able, she agreed, "I'll tel you what. I'll give you my top two. You get three or four days. And then when we go out on Friday, you have to be ready to talk at least about one or two." He's like, "Three or four days. I can do that." And so their date nights, their times away were much freer of the pressure to deal with all the issues. And he felt like some of those actually fell off the list in the three or four days. They were no longer as important. And the one or two that they talked about were really satisfying. So, it's a great way to do it.

Tim Muehlhoff: We used to do that with letter writing.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: I mean, things are so picked up today, but there was a time you just thought about a letter.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: It might take a week to write a letter. And then you sent it off. I do think we've seen some of the negatives of just quick reaction time, like sometimes, we've all done a tweet or an email we had sent, and thought oh I shouldn't have responded when I was this upset.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, that's a negative about it. But if you say I'm not going to send this email, I'm purposefully not going to send it for three days. It's okay to write it in the heat of the moment and then revise it, edit.

Chris Grace: Oh Tim, how often do we write that email-

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh my word.

Chris Grace: And that next night you're going, next day, "Oh my gosh, I'm so thankful I didn't send this thing." That happened to me recently. The next email I went was the complete opposite tact, rewrote it. I wrote better afterwards, and I was just so grateful not to have sent that thing. So, sometimes there could be a positive, and that really does bring out some things in you. How about this one Tim as a [inaudible].

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh yeah, I got a funny story about that.

Chris Grace: Okay, yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Let me tell you this story. So, I was upset about something. You just do, you get upset. And I crafted an email. And again, I thought I'm not overreacting, right? I'm just, but I crafted it and then hit send. And then Noreen came home and I, I'll never forget this, and I sat down with her, I said, "Hey, I'm going to respond to," and I read her the email. First words out of her mouth were, "Well, let's not send that." I was like-

Chris Grace: "I already did."

Tim Muehlhoff: "I already did." She goes, "Well, let's craft the second one. The follow-up."

Chris Grace: The apology.

Tim Muehlhoff: Because we're not good self-critics.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Chris, honestly I thought it was balanced. I thought it was fine. And Noreen listened to it and said, "Oh honey, the tone of that is, I think that's over the top." So yeah, again, good to write it. I love how the couple used it, utilizing that way I think makes a ton of sense. Just time is on your side. "A word spoken in the right circumstances," says the Book of Proverbs.

Chris Grace: Yeah. No, that's good. There's a couple of other things. I'm impressed with the ability now for people, Tim, to now start to connect with people that they are no longer limited to geographical proximity.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's cool.

Chris Grace: We used to be whoever's in my neighborhood or in my little town and I would go to school with, well those are the people then that I would connect with. And some of them may have very different interests than me. Or I may have this excitement about some thing, interest, whatever. And I can find no one around. Well now, it feels as if geography does not prevent me from connecting with somebody who has the same passion about this book or about reading or about whatever the topic may be. And we can now find that based upon the way we can use media.

Tim Muehlhoff: And our podcast is evidence of this. Our podcast is in 69 countries.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, there's no way you and I can fly to 69 countries. So, that's what's cool. And by the way, a total aside, as we see politically, that people who tend to live in very difficult regimes.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right? You can't shut down the internet. Countries have tried. But by and large, it's wonderful to see people be able to protest and voice their opinion via the internet they live in cultures and societies that there's just no way they're going to do that in person in a public situation.

Hey, let me throw out one other one. I think this is great. You can build community online around a very specific topic.

Chris Grace: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: Like for instance, I'm a migraine sufferer. I mentioned this before. It's good to go online and join a community of people who are migraine sufferers and that you just speak the same language. We had a son who had a very weird knee situation happen when a piece of bone broke off his knee. And don't you know, there was a support group for it. So, I love the fact, again, we know that Christians are supposed to live in community. We know that that's true. So, if you can find a community online that's very tailor-made to the things that you're struggling with, and man, that's a great way to fight isolation is to find a group of people online. And again, of course, it's not either or.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: It means you don't find your group at church as well. But you can find very specific communities that you can be a sounding board.

Chris Grace: Well, Tim, as we then think about this as specifically towards relationships, what we're saying is man, with the proper boundaries in place, like anything else, with the proper ways in which we define appropriate use and time, and disconnecting that really in some respect relationships seem to be in a place where they can thrive.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: And again it's like anything else, it's any other tool, in the 20 years ago, 30 years ago when we walk into a room and there are a bunch of people in there, what was the main killer of kind of conversation? It was the television.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right.

Chris Grace: If you walk in the home and the TV's on, and then it's just going to stop a lot of conversations. And in restaurants to this day, if you go in and there's a sports TV up there, you're rarely going to see people talking, they're watching.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right.

Chris Grace: And social media's just the same thing. It's used in the proper way in the proper context, right? And so, there's other ways in which relationships grow in value primarily when we're able to kind of set up the right parameters of when this works. So, I think of like teens and if you have children-

Tim Muehlhoff: Right.

Chris Grace: Using technology to set up rules and times, but not have to run from it. There's so many ways in which connections can happen.

Tim Muehlhoff: And we've talked about this I think briefly in the past, it'd be fun to do a whole podcast on technological fasts.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Just a regular time where you just sort of kind of disconnect. There's a wonderful article we should make part of that podcast called Is Google Making Us Stupid by Nicholas Carr. I bet you we could do a whole podcast, Chris, on technological fasts and Nicholas Carr's insights into how social media kind of changes us for the good and for the bad. But yeah, we're talking moderation.

Chris Grace: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's what you're saying. We don't like to hear very often is excess about anything is just way too much. Let's have moderation. If we do that with social media, I think social media's a great gift.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: A lot of positive qualities. It can actually enhance a relationship, but when done in the right setting with moderation.

Chris Grace: And so, advice that we would give out then, Tim, just as we get ready here to kind of conclude this idea that relationships in general seem to have been strengthened or at least not negatively impacted by this use of social media. In fact, there are so many ways that we can begin to get to know another person even in ways for that shyer person or that quieter person, or the person that we could begin to praise and lift them up, and even stay connected more often and more frequently where some of the things we gave.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: And these are all ways in which we have found the benefit of doing this, even being able to communicate more accurately with a spouse, because you have to stop and think about it. To be able to accurately talk with a roommate as you pause and think.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: And that's kind of what this is about. It allows us this opportunity to reflect a little bit before we kind of send things out.

Tim Muehlhoff: And if you catch yourself saying things like, "Well, my husband does Facebook but I don't." That, to me is a red sign. Why not have your husband invite you in? Why don't you ask to be invited in? So, that kind of stuff. I think that's important. And I would add a very simple thing like so with your computer or your iPhone or whatever, your spouse should probably have the password. Right? You should just probably have access to it. That If I want to see it, I just have the freedom. Otherwise this can breed suspicion like, "Why don't you want me to have the password to your computer?" What's happening on that computer that you feel like you just need that kind of privacy and stuff like that. Noreen loves the fact that she can get on my computer and she knows every code. She can go anywhere I go on the computer. I think that's kind of just good practices.

Chris Grace: And I think we've talked in here in the past too, Tim, about that's probably obviously good practice with children. Right? We know everything and and what the sites they're on, what they're doing. And that's just good practice with children that parents will do. Now when it comes to dating relationships, we're going to say that there is probably a boundary that you want to hold pretty strongly that the other person doesn't get your passwords in a dating relationship. They don't know and can't go in and look at your texts all of the time. There are just some ways in which social media, that these are all rules that seem to kind of, we talked about in the past.

Tim Muehlhoff: It kind of reminds me of a Kanye West song. Already Home, co-produced by Jay-Z. Just kind of makes you appreciate, I have no idea.

Chris Grace: I have no idea either.

Tim Muehlhoff: I have no idea what I'm talking about, Chris.

Chris Grace: Well, maybe he doesn't either, so. Hey, it's good to talk with you about about the internet.

Tim Muehlhoff: It's been great using social media to talk about social media.