May 13, 2011
If you pick up any woman’s magazine at the moment you’ll find nervous articles about how we’re so busy with the Internet and social networking that we are becoming disconnected from reality. Apparently, we are not ever “in the moment” and are constantly task-switching on our various social networking sites.
What I’ve found, particularly with the invention of the smartphone, is that I find waiting for trains, buses and appointments a lot less boring. I pull out my phone and I check Twitter and Facebook or read mindless celebrity gossip. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. However what I don’t actually do is ignore my friends or text through my dinner in a restaurant. I don’t do push notifications and I don’t answer emails while I’m on dates, nor do I know anyone who does. Social networking kills time sometimes, but it doesn’t replace the things we really want to do. I take my phone in the bath (don’t worry, I’m insured), and I read Twitter. I used to read magazines. I don’t feel any less “in the moment” of my bath, and in fact it’s something I really enjoy; I like looking at what the world’s been up to while I’ve been at work.
Another thing these articles tend to talk about is that we’re a nation that is disconnected: the sense of community is gone and because we communicate in a virtual way, we are ceasing to engage in personal contact and are becoming lonelier than ever.
I can’t be the only person these views are beginning to grate on. In many ways I feel we are more connected than ever. I have a cousin who moved to Barcelona. I have a lot of cousins, so I can’t phone them all regularly. He’s on Facebook and Twitter now and a few times a week we exchange messages and banter. I feel more connected to him than I ever have.
Hundreds of people wish me happy birthday on Facebook. I’m sure I’m not the only one. They don’t have to. Just because the message is typed doesn’t make it any less meaningful that someone took a couple of minutes out of their day to wish me happy birthday, even if the message comes from somebody I knew at school and haven’t seen for a decade.
My neighbor is on Facebook. She has young children and so I never know when is convenient to pop over. It’s so much easier to message her on the internet or send her a text. Sometimes we chat on Facebook messenger late at night in our pajamas. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to go round to her house (and I’m sure her husband wouldn’t want to hear our girly ramblings). Here, Facebook hasn’t replaced an in-person communication; it’s simply added to it. We still talk over the fence in the garden, but we also talk on Facebook sometimes.
A lot of people seem to think there is a difference between talking to somebody on Twitter and looking into their eyes. There is a difference, of course there is: I wouldn’t be happy to conduct my relationship over Twitter, for example. But how important is this difference? Sometimes, I like to see my friends in person. And sometimes, I want to not get dressed up and do other things while I talk to them. Because of that latter option, I don’t think we meet up any less. We’ve always met up every few weeks. Now, we meet up every few weeks but catch up on the internet in the meantime.
Every day, I see photographs of my friends appear on Facebook. These aren’t events I would have been at were it not for social networking: these are just pictures of my friends I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. We write on each others’ walls with funny messages that five years ago would probably have been text messages and ten years ago wouldn’t have existed at all. Do we talk less because of social networking? No, I think we talk more.
The community hasn’t disbanded because of social networking. For that, we can probably blame Tesco. No – the community is as alive as ever: it just contains almost everybody you’ve ever spoken to.
Billygean is a 26 year old trainee lawyer, writer and blogger. She wrote her first novel while recovering from ME/CFS. She enjoys eating nutella straight out of the jar, Shakespeare and Twitter. http://www.billygean.co.uk/