As a person who grew in the generation that crossed the chasm from the time the net and social media were rare to the current time when they are commonplace, I find a few trends interesting and I want to spend a bit of time over the next few posts talking about them. Namely, the impact of social media on certain aspects of our lives and where those impacts can be both boon and bane.
To start, let’s talk about relationships. Having the world at the end of your finger instead makes for very interesting circumstances. For example, you can have a long distance relationship that spans the globe without ever having met the person “in real life”. That of itself is a pretty hefty concept. We’ve always had movies and magazines and people to obsess over because of those things, but in this day, it is possible to take that even further. Movies can’t talk back to you and neither can magazines, but someone on a chat program can. With that, feelings are born, developed, and in some cases brought to full term resulting in marriages – some of them very happy and successful – with children.
Two decades ago, this was impossible on any level. One decade ago, it would have been laughable. In the current time, it is more rare for me to hear someone say, “I saw such X in the mall and…” than to hear “I was online the other day and started talking to X”. It feels like being stuck in Napoleon Dynamite on repeat. Mind you, these people aren’t in the same city. Not even the same state. Oh no: these people are in places like Australia, China, Japan, Italy… places that require 15-hour flights through up to seven hours of time zones. To say the least: incredible.
Mind you, I’m not a nay-sayer for these sorts of relationships; they simply interest me. At one point, we thought that having virtual relationships would be the result of things like AI and cyborgs (or persocom if you are an anime fan), but what we have found is that it is no further in the future than a Yahoo! Messenger chat or a facebook account (myspace if you’re not 18 yet). It is now possible (and common) to feel and be affected by people online that you have neither seen (unless they have a profile pic) nor met to the same degree that you would be affected by a tangible person in front of you.
The drawbacks are many and rather amusing. If there is a breakup, the world knows. Every conversation is able to be printed, shared, reposted or captured as a screen shot. There is no such thing as discretion when it comes to hashing out less-than-desirable relationship issues and so on (maybe I should actually write a list for my amusement and yours… leave me a comment on that). There’s also the fact that personal relationships are less personal because online life is ten times more invasive now than it was before social media was invested in. Now, I can get a text message from people in Melbourne talking to me about their relationship issues. While that is happening, I have put someone in front of me on hold to have this conversation. While I am watching a movie with a group of friends, I am talking about it on twitter, distracting me from both my friends and the movie in question. Texting is my personal achilles’ heel as I tend to text at all times. Then there is the completely unfounded panic that is associated with people not immediately returning texts because you can’t see them and the uncanny knack of people to take every text the wrong way because they lack the non-verbal cues that would indicate things like humor, sarcasm and mischief.
I actually argued with someone last night for an hour because I didn’t pick up the phone (my phone was dead). Five years ago, I would have just gotten a voicemail expressing concern. Now, I get 20 texts expressing both concern and anger.
Sometimes, this world being so small doesn’t seem like such a good idea for relationships – friendship or otherwise – and I worry about that. Sometimes, I don’t want to text my friends. I want them to actually come to my house or go get a burger. I worry about things coming to a point where people don’t feel the need to conquer social fears and meet people because chatting and texting are safer. I have a roommate. We have been friends for two years and he still prefers to write me on facebook than to actually have a conversation in person and he is only 20 feet down the hall from me. This isn’t some random crazy thing. This is normal now in spite of my frustrations with that. Nothing that anyone would even be mildly concerned about.
Unsettling is hardly the word for that.
It’s just too easy now to use things like social media and chats and text to keep people at arm’s length when the spirit of social media is to include include include. To get people together to collaborate. Not always via the web, but in person. Things like 4square let people know where you are so they can see you and meet you if they are close enough.
Why are we as humans so good at using something for everything but what it is designed for? It makes me wonder what relationships will become in five years from now, but enough with my thoughts…
What do you think?