“How many Facebook friends do you have,” asks one 16 year old girl to another. Apparently, today a marker for success and popularity is tightly hinged to how many Facebook friends, Twitter followers or Instagram likes one gets online. The reality is that the 1600 friends on your Facebook page, are often people that you barely know, or might have never even spoken to. And if you are like most people, you spend more time texting your REAL friends on the phone than you do talking to them, or meeting face to face. Today we are living in a highly connected but unconnected world, where personal relationships and intimate bonding is becoming a lost art.
Through the wonders of the internet people from all walks of life and from all over the world are able to meet and interact. The boundaries that used to keep people apart because of language or distance or culture are rapidly being removed. And yet, we are becoming more removed from intimate personal relationships than ever before.
In a study out of the University of Michigan, conducted of newly graduating high school seniors – it showed that today’s young adults lack key communication skills needed effective face to face conversations. These young people do not know how to speak with other people, read emotions, and struggle with simple things such as job interviews, because they have missed out on important developmental faces of personal interactions that come with REAL, meaning physical and face to face, relationships with others. Young adults are accustomed to dealing with situations in life from the removed seat of text or email, which lacks two fundamental factors in communication – emotion and sincerity.
And many adults today are suffering from the same problem. It is becoming common for people to work out their personal differences on Facebook or through text messages. There are millions upon millions of blogs in the world where people communicate and share their life through the written word, many with thousands of followers (friends) written by people who have no real relationships beyond the computer screen. These seemingly outgoing and articulate individuals gain confidence and feel verified of their success in life from an audience of people that they have never seen face to face.
Just a decade ago, friends met for coffee or lunch. Today, friends snap chat one another and share pictures and life through verticals as impersonal as Facebook and Twitter. It is nothing to hear of life altering news, such as a marriage, birth or death – through online interaction rather than through personal interactions. Greeting cards are being replaced by Meme’s and online card services, and thank you notes are being texting on Christmas morning by 11 year olds to their grandparents.
There is definitely a double edged sword that technology has served us. While we may feel more connected to more people, the reality is that the intimate relationships and bonding that come from interpersonal relationships built on trust; understanding and compassion that develop with a physical presence are absent. One of the most basic forms of human emotion comes in the form of physical touch. A hug, a shaken hand, a pat on the back. The eyes and body language of others tell us a lot about what another person is really saying, and what they really feel. And yet all of this is lacking in our ultra connected technological world that simulates friendships like video games simulate war. Ask yourself. Does an emoticon hug give you the same sense of compassion and empowerment that a hug in real life does? Does a typed sentence of condolence or congratulations carry the same weight as the heard word of a friend or loved one?
As with all things in life, the key is balance and boundaries. The online world is a huge mixing bowl of possibility. Yet it shouldn’t be the only form of personal interaction that one has with the outside world. If you are spending more time in your virtual world than you are in your real world, then chances are you are missing out on some of the key elements of human interaction that can add real value to your life. If you count your Facebook friends and twitter followers as a measure of your success and popularity, then you might be crossing a boundary between fantasy and reality.
With more technology will come more connections that we never thought possible. However, these connections must add value to our lives – in our real lives, if we truly want to be connected to other people. While our virtual world of friends and followers and chat rooms can help us bridge the gaps that often exist in life, we should make strides to keep these relationships alive and real by investing in them beyond what the capabilities of the internet provide.