Alone with social media

Monday Musing

[ Nellie N Manpoong ]

I received 27 individual and group text messages on WhatsApp and Instagram yesterday, and a phone call from my mother.

On my part, I called up three people I had met earlier in the day for work, and barely spoke for a minute.

Keeping a log of the text messages and phone calls I’ve received is not my usual morning ritual. In fact, it was the first time I scrolled through my phone to take count as I had to research the impact of social media on in-person relationships.

There were a few research articles on the subject, and many of them focused on interpersonal business and management relationships. And while they did give me some helpful pointers, I was looking for something more personal.

Every time-consuming research requires some music, so I opened YouTube and hit ‘play’ on one of my collections, and after a while I was taken back to the song ‘Modern Loneliness’ by Lauv.

The chorus of the song, “Modern loneliness, we’re never alone but always depressed. Love my friends to death but I never call and I never text” may sound plain and not poetic enough to some, but it hit the right notes for my research.

Why is it so difficult to call up our friends and family when that is exactly what our mobile phones have primarily been built for? Why is it so much easier to simply send a text?

Let’s not get started on recorded voice messages. They are on another level of annoyance. On the other hand, video calls are definitely a boon for people who cannot travel easily, especially due to the Covid pandemic.

Any conversation on the effects of social media on person-to-person relationships may seem overrated and overdone, but it definitely tells us that we were in isolation long before the Corona virus arrived. The only difference between social media and the virus was that the virus did not let us remain in isolation on our terms.

This was probably one of the reasons why it was much easier for many, especially the youth, to stay indoors during the pandemic. We are surrounded by our electronic gadgets and social media apps that give us a false sense of remaining connected with the world outside.

After the first 21 days of the nationwide lockdown, people were eager to come out of their homes and meet people. Such enthusiasm to get out of our homes and meet people may imply that people prefer person-to-person communication over social media communication, but how many of us have truly attempted to continue meeting those close to us after the unlock was announced? It’s simply asking too much of a new-age person.

Many may claim that they continue to meet their friends and relatives regularly, and we may require a scientific study to prove that hypothesis, but it is evident even without a study that people continue to use social media apps to text or message to communicate, instead of picking up their phones or meeting someone in person. My message and call count is an example.

In hindsight, it is much easier to meet someone for work or when there is an emergency because these things need to get done, come rain or shine.

Undeniably, our busy lifestyles and the need to maintain a socially acceptable economic status have contributed to this lowering rate of in-person communication.

I am guilty of engaging in everything I have pointed out up to this point, and I’m not proud of it.

However, there are still a handful of people who call up friends and relatives to simply ask how they are doing, and this largely includes the generation that was privileged to be one of the first to communicate long distance as adults – our parents and grandparents. We definitely have to factor in the fact that they may not be accustomed to messaging apps, but another reason could be that they prefer listening to our voices and the emotions they carry.

A text message is read from the point of view of the reader only and may be misinterpreted in innumerable ways. It is also much easier to hide our emotions in texts or difficult for the reader to interpret the sender’s emotions to a tee.

Of all the things I have learnt in mass communication, the one line that lingers on is, “Everything about you communicates something.” Our clothes, the way we walk, sit, eat or talk, a new haircut – every single thing about us says something.

Would it then be safe to assume that we are trying to hide our true selves through social media apps because speaking to or meeting someone in person can give away more than we would like to?

This is where our double lives come into play. Someone who is commenting horrible and hurtful things may not be able to say the same things in person and may be extremely shy in reality. Similarly, someone posting a few scenic photos may not constantly be on vacation and they may even be overworked from all the travelling.

A friend and I were debating on who was having a more fun-filled life (based on our social media posts). When I pointed out that he looked like he was on a picnic because of a riverside photo with a few other people making silly faces, I was told that he was returning from a funeral and had stopped near the river for a while. That’s how deceptive our social media posts can be.

I am certain that most of us chat for hours on end about everything under the sun, such as this story of an assumed picnic photograph, but will rarely call up someone to ask them where they had gone for picnicking. It may seem like a trivial topic, but it is certainly a conversation starter, but also something we would avoid starting over the phone or in person.

Greek philosopher Aristotle had said: “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”

Is social media then turning us into beasts or gods? Perhaps using the self-created isolation (much before the pandemic) to introspect will help answer this all-important question.