I was just lying in bed (or rather, the tiny mattress on the floor that serves as my bed) in a daze, wondering how the hell I’m supposed to cough up a page about the topic I chose for this week: Is social media making us less social? It’s not that I don’t know what to say about this, it’s just me being neurotic. Is this relevant to Borderless News and Views? Do I have anything new or interesting to say about it? What’s the point of writing this article at all if all I have to offer are my own observations which I’m sure are the same observations that anyone who isn’t totally socially inept has already had for themselves, etc etc blah blah blah.
Welcome to James Haitchwai’s creative process!
At 26, I’m just old enough to remember what it was like to have a social life without the internet. Calling my friends from my parents’ rotary phone. Writing letters. Exchanging mix tapes. Pay phones. Having to make plans ahead of time. Memorizing phone numbers!
Of course, anyone my age or older knows how much this has all changed. And I’m sure we’re all aware of the debate going on about whether this change is good, bad, both or neither. We may have more ways than ever before to communicate, but are we really communicating more?
I don’t know. Personally, I’ve noticed lots more socially awkward situations than I did before the age of Facebook. I’ve witnessed people having nice exchanges on FB who won’t even acknowledge each other in person. I’ve had friends not pick up their phones and send me comments or messages saying “Sorry I missed your call” without ever calling me back. On more than a few occasions I’ve had to put up with the person I’m hanging out with being so busy with their smartphone that they’ve just about checked out of our conversation. Many of the e-mail or private message exchanges I have are absurdly protracted; one half-sentence reply after another sometimes spanning several days. All of which could have been shared in a 5-minute phone call.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, maybe I’m out of touch, but I don’t think any of that’s very communicative.
But I’m just whining. It does a lot of good too. It’s helped me keep up with new music, art, current events, and other goings-on more efficiently than ever. It’s been an important tool for organizing political demonstrations, circulating petitions and promoting awareness of social issues. I’ve even seen it help people recover from bouts of social isolation.
Do we need it to make all of that possible? Of course not. I’m not aware of any technology that was created to fulfill a need. Demand always follows supply.
And I’d bet that once upon a time, people bitched about how radios and black-and-white TV’s were ruining human interaction.
I don’t think there’s an easy answer and I don’t think we need one.