Thanks to technology the world is now a smaller place especially through the advent and proliferation of the Personal Computer, Cell phones, Mobile phones and the likes, as well as the various social media platforms. Now, it is easy to catch up with family and friends without necessarily having to meet up physically. Nevertheless, even though the internet has been able overcome the challenges posed by time and space, It would not be far-fetched to say that it has succeeded in building superficial relationships rather than promote deep ones. We have more friends thanks to technology but the quality of those friendships is arguably questionable. And so the paradox is this; we are more connected- and at the same time more disconnected than ever before!
I read the story of a mother who chatted via text with her daughter who was in college. The chat basically involved the mum asking how her daughter was doing and how things were going in school, with the daughter responding positively with emoticons of smiles, big smiles and hearts. On paper everything appeared to be alright, but guess what? Later that night, the daughter attempted suicide! It was then it was discovered that she had been battling depression. This example is one of the reasons why I am of the school of thought that social media is sabotaging real communication. There is nothing quite like speaking to someone one-on-one, that is how and when we get instant and authentic feedbacks and are able decipher the non verbal cues through body language and facial expressions. That’s when we can tell when “I’m fine” doesn’t mean a person is fine at all from the tone of their voice or the look in their eyes. I’ll never be able to tell if my friend is truly fine when their responses to me is full of emoticons that show happiness and excitement and this is where social media gets dicey! Studies also show that 7% of communication is based on the written and verbal word while a whopping 93% is based on non verbal body language.
With virtual communities and social networking sites, our relationships are defined by the promotion of narcissism and vanities of all sorts. Instead of using these tools to learn new things, gain an understanding of other cultures and strengthen existing relationships, the internet has on the contrary caused many to be distant, distracted and increasingly isolated. Whether on an intimate date with the significant other, a group discussion or an international conference, you can be sure to find people with noses buried in their phones. Many of us have met people whom we feel we have grown close to through Facebook and Twitter even though we have never met them physically. The question is,”Can we really be sure that we are close to someone we have never met in real time?” Because, you see… I can be anything I want to be over the internet, I can claim to be who I am not in a bid to gain the other person’s trust over time through constant chats, but you never can tell if I am a serial killer who’s looking to pounce on an unsuspecting victim at the right time. (I agree…I do watch the Crime and Investigation channel a lot). I know this can happen in the real world too, but the chances are a lot slimmer especially for the discerning mind.
I am aware that quite a number of people have built solid relationships over the internet. Indeed, many have met and married their partners by making friends on social media sites. However, it must still be said that these people must have met at some point outside the virtual community to ascertain if they are truly compatible in the real world. I have friends whom I was very close to for many years but hardly get to see these days because “everyone is busy.” Our friendship has been reduced to saying “hi” once in a while and putting up pictures on BBM during birthdays. We now have nothing close to a semblance of the deep conversations we used to have in those days. I can’t help but question the quality of friendship we now have. Technology is a beautiful thing but it has had a rather profound effect on what it means to be social, it has become a surrogate for the real thing which has far as this writer is concerned cannot serve as a worthy substitute for the good old method of connection through genuine real time communication.