Constant Connectivity vs Connection
Thinking about it...
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I started out thinking I was about to write something to the effect of “constant connectivity kills connection.” But the responsible thing to do was double-check the data and ensure it supports the idea. So, I did.
And this is what happened…
Technology scares people. It appears that people sound the alarm when a new technology emerges, anticipating all the harmful and disruptive consequences of adopting it. Imagine what the clergy said when the printing press produced newspapers and romance novels. We are now having apocalyptic conversations about AI and the metaverse. But the truth is we don’t know exactly how people will use technology and how far they will take it, for good or bad. If history holds clues and we pay attention to them, then we shouldn’t worry too much, but we should probably be careful.
“The Internet” sucked many people in. Some, in a really bad way, what psychologists call PIU (Problematic Internet Use). Some researchers believe that PIU can be classified as substance abuse. They found associations of PIU with obsessive-compulsive disorder and impulse control disorder, going as far as to suggest that PIU is included in the DSM (Diagnostics and Statistics Manual).
I remember reading about people in Japan (and in the US, too) who literally die playing virtual reality games. They forget to eat, sleep, or bathe. Some end up in “rehab” to try to break the habit. Sounds awful. But I wonder if only a certain type of person could actually end up there. I believe something like 61% of households own game consoles, and family members play various games. Yet, cases of extreme behavior are still rare. Kind of like gambling addiction, even though anyone can go to Vegas at any time and throw some money at slot machines. Or smoking, which is even more accessible should one choose to partake and give themselves lung cancer.
The world would be a lot smaller without the internet and the various ways it helps us connect. Thinking of all the incredible trips I’ve taken around the world, I admit that I would’ve known nothing of those places and would have had my hands tied trying to organize the trips without technology. The internet is a window to the world, hands down! Information at your fingertips and the ability to reach anyone, anywhere, can be priceless, saving time and money but also inspiring learning, forging relationships, and facilitating productivity.
Sometimes, too much, though. Especially when it is a window to people’s private worlds through various social media platforms. This is where it gets a little argumentative in the research world. For example, is social media causing people to be depressed and anxious? Or are the depressed and anxious types more likely to overuse social media? I believed the first, but now I seriously wonder about the second.
Apparently, the answer depends on who you ask and how they conducted the study.
On the negative side:
Constantly exposing oneself to the private lives of others can create FOMO. Especially when those others are fancy pants “influencers” who enjoy a lifestyle 99% of the world will never have. I leave aside the question of how authentic influencers’ lifestyles actually are. If you want to take a peekster into the influencer world, check out Fake Famous, a 2021 documentary.
Following the rich and famous is easier than ever. So is feeling bummed about your own place in the world. It’s unlikely that you will own a jet and spend a million dollars on a watch. It’s unlikely that you will live in a ginormous mansion. You probably won’t have a driver, butler, and a private chef. Unless the driver, butler, and chef are all one person – your spouse. I can understand people getting depressed comparing themselves to others so far apart that a single lifetime will not be enough to bridge the gap.
Meanwhile, social media celebrities willingly exaggerate everything to retain their followers, not just how they live. Bodies and faces get made up, trimmed up, tattooed, dressed up, and transformed by filters to extremes. People peddle questionable advice on any subject, promote dangerous activities, and much more. Most of it is completely unnecessary for a happy and fulfilling life. Yet, just by existing and being easily accessible, this type of content diminishes any happy and fulfilling life in comparison.
Some researchers hypothesize that a developing brain on social media develops pathologies. They say humans need other humans to bounce facial expressions from, test behaviors, learn by observing and making mistakes around others, and get corrected, educated, acknowledged, and validated. Some evidence suggests that young children growing up with more screen time than people time can be deficient in social skills and often lack empathy. This can’t be good for humanity. Who’s going to volunteer? Who’s going to defend the underdogs? Who’s going to donate money for various causes?
Lack of empathy is one of the main characteristics of Narcissism, Psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Oops.
The CDC recently released its bi-annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which showed this:
All of them have never known a world in which smartphones, the internet, and social media did not exist. Could these trends be related to constant connectivity?
To be sure….
There are more than one evil in the world at present – war, economics, environmental disasters, absent parents who are too busy working to pay the bills, drugs, etc. So, perhaps, to think of this as simply the result of staring at unattainable lifestyles, looks, and future may be an oversimplification.
On the positive side:
Some researchers find that teenagers stay connected with their peers, texting each other and communicating over social media. The more connected they felt with their friends, the deeper their friendships grew. So, how’s that for some good news to contradict those who say connectivity is shallow and unsatisfactory in comparison to in-person connection and leaves one feeling empty?
I dare venture down the path of personality traits and say that introverts probably love the ability to communicate with others without leaving their safe spaces. Extroverts love sharing everything they do on social media. Those high on Openness learn a ton by following various rabbit holes online and connecting to like-minded communities. The conscientious types accomplish a lot using various forms of communication, including keeping themselves and others accountable, and the neurotic ones make up the sad statistics above…
I have friends that only text short messages when I don’t see them in person. Others insist on video chats. Some that never open up about what they feel when face-to-face but dig deep in long WhatsApp conversations, as if it helps them think better when they write it down. Oh, wait, that’s me, too. I can think better when I write things down.
Back in the day, I made AT&T rich by calling my family in Bulgaria once a month and trying to limit the conversation to 10 min max. These days, I have a regular weekly hour-long video chat with my mom via Facebook Messenger and a couple of other shorter check-ins throughout the week… FREE!
I remember the days when if I wanted to connect with someone, I had to go over to their house, hang out with them at school, or make plans to meet after school. No smartphones. No phones, for that matter. I was probably ten years old when we got a phone in the house. Definitely no voicemail, though. No connectivity meant I could check out and hide more. It meant no accountability, too. My parents couldn’t easily check to see what I was up to. And sometimes, I was definitely up to things they wouldn’t want me to be up to. That’s for sure. They had the neighbors keep an eye on me. But without connectivity, eyes and ears could easily be evaded. And that’s why I’ve got secrets… LOL.
Thanks to connectivity, it’s so much easier to organize a party or a volunteer drive, a social gathering, announce events, etc. We can keep in touch with people we otherwise may completely lose touch with because of time and distance. I watch my cousin’s kids grow up on social media. It helps when I need to pick presents to take back to Bulgaria.
Is connectivity a real connection, though? I think outside of studies and statistics, everyone has their own answer. Personalities, circumstances, intentions, and purpose matter. Just like some people board the train to go sightseeing, others to go to work, someone’s on the way to a funeral, while someone else to a baby shower, we all ride the connectivity train for different reasons, and we all get something different out of it.
The key is to be mindful of what we do and why we do it. If you are looking for connection and not getting it from texting, how about picking up the phone or making a date with a friend to talk in person? Go hang out with real people and express your feelings with real words, not emojis. Hear their voices. See their faces. Give some real hugs. Go home happy!
If you are avoiding real connection and hiding behind screens and anonymous avatars, make an appointment with a mental health professional (me 😊). This is not optimal behavior. Find out why you are the way you are and work on the root causes of your behavior. You’ll feel better, have a fuller life, and have more friends you could hang out with in real life and feel a deeper connection to.
Do you know what else is not a substitute, meaningful face-to-face connection?
Antidepressants and alcohol. Both seem overused, probably because they are easier to get to than your childhood issues, hangups, and solutions to your real-life problems.
So, the next time you reach for your smartphone, reflexively, stop for a moment. Ask yourself, why? What do you want to get out of it? And most importantly, are you actually getting what you want?
Thanks for reading.
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