The Social Me: The Online Experience vs The Physical Presence
It's not news - we hear it every day: our world is more connected than ever. And, of course, this is true. Just take a look at your smartphone; within the space of just a few button touches you can access breaking news from the United States, call your uncle on the other side of the country, order goods from a business in Nepal, and engage with a complete stranger on social media.
There can be no mistake; communication is far faster and far easier than ever before. But is it better? Sometimes!
Let's consider communication and connection in the current landscape, taking into account both the modern experience of online communication and the more traditional one of face to face physical contact. Both are valid and relevant in today's world, and both need to be carefully considered if we are to promote a genuine understanding of ourselves and our positions in society.
The Physical Communication Experience
Many lament the 'death' of traditional communication, and wax lyrical about the good old days when everyone knew everyone else, and you left your front door unlocked at night. As with most examples of rose-tinted nostalgia, this is a touch hyperbolic and overblown. Communication in the traditional sense still exists and thrives - just look around you at a cafe or bar - it has merely evolved.
But there are also other aspects of physical communication which we should take into account. For example, physical communication with strangers or with people outside our usual circle may be a source of anxiety for some. As many as 4.7% of Australians suffer from some type of social phobia according to data from Health.gov's mental health report; a statistically significant minority.
There are other barriers too. Some may find it difficult to trust those they come into contact with or will experience worry and concern over whether those they meet can trust them. Misunderstood feelings and moods, insecurities and prejudices; all of these things can come into play during traditional communication, and these can be damaging.
Of course, while the traditional model is flawed, it is still effective and remains an integral part of human interaction. One important aspect of physical communication is the ability to 'disconnect'; to take yourself out of the circuit of communication and to give yourself time to reflect. This downtime is something which is all too often lacking in day to day living now.
The Online Communication Experience
Some might say that online communication provides this downtime too, but does it? Think about social media. It is no longer necessary to log into a website to access Facebook or Twitter; they are available as apps on your smartphone, sending notifications and staying perpetually logged in. Think about all those communication channels people have for you. A ringing phone used to be easy to ignore; now it is backed up by multiple different avenues of instant connection.
It is little wonder, then, that increasing numbers of Australians are being diagnosed with smartphone addiction or another mental health issue related to the incessant nature of modern communication.
While the online experience does give us the opportunity to lose our inhibitions and to communicate more freely with people from all over the world, it is important not to let ourselves become too entrenched in this new landscape. Taking a step back and taking stock of the social self is necessary for all of us every now and again.
How do you feel when engaging with someone face to face? Does it feel much different to when you speak with a stranger online? Perhaps you have identified other differences between these two social environments, and in the ways in which we take responsibility for thoughts, actions and feelings across these contrasting spheres.
Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.
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