I don't know what the research says now, but in 2012, two years ago (which is a long time ago in today's digital environment), 40% of Americans said they were more comfortable engaging with people online than in real person. I would imagine that proportion has, if anything, increased. The 2012 research also showed that:
- 50 percent of Americans spend less time emailing because they are on social networks
- 49 percent of would rather text than call a person
- 48 percent use the phone less because they communicate via social networks
- 40 percent feel more comfortable interacting with people online rather than in person
- 30 percent would rather connect with close friends via social sites than traditional methods
Oh la la la la la. Who ARE these people? Um. Me.
Here's the thing: I am an odd person, as we all are (right!?). I am effusive, shy, prickly, anxious, confident, smart, dumb, eloquent, and clumsy. Which is exactly why I love social media: I don't have to show any of the yuckier bits. I don't have to brush my hair, respond immediately to questions, engage with people I don't agree with, bristle when someone I love drives me nuts, cringe when someone eats with their mouth open, nearly faint after prolonged eye contact, maintain my posture, or generally make time for anything that doesn't fit precisely into my day.
I get to control everything, or a whole lot more of everything than I would were I dealing directly with people physically in from of me, or people on the phone. I get to "like" something someone says and thus show my endorsement of their point-of-view or humour. With one click! Not even a word!
I get to "like" a lot, which I guess makes me a pretty positive, lovely person, eh? I get to post a lot about things I think about, which I guess makes me pretty confident and outgoing, right? I get to think about a funny way to say something, which I guess makes me funny.
Well, no. It means I get the time and platform to exhibit sides of me I prefer to show the world, and it means—because I work at home and I LOVE being alone—that fewer people really know me. And that, because I cannot be unique, that I really know fewer people, though I sure do like a lot more of them.
I can't decide how I feel about all this. I don't feel lonely. My life is nuts with two little kids right now—but they won't always be little and I won't always be so busy. Then what? Will I crave in-person company more? If I do, will I—in the expanse of time I indulged in more social media friendships than "real-life" ones—have lost a sense of what to say and do in public, and will I be even more inept at handling real one-on-one human, serious relationships with care and generosity?
Or will I continue on this path—because let's face it, social media is an amazing place for shy people who aren't so much shy as awkward or uncomfortable in public—enjoying and sincerely appreciating more people (or personas) than I otherwise would?
What about my yucky bits? Will I deem them even more horrid, distort them and magnify them because they are so much more handily contained now that I can hide them better? What about other people's? What if we don't have to work on ourselves—our whole selves—to be more functional in real life? What if we make less and less time for that cup of tea with a group of friends to find out that, gasp, we all are horrid and beautiful all at once, that we shine and fail, are mean and caring, and smart and dumb?
I don't know.
If this strikes a chord with you, some further reading:
Alone With Everyone: http://www.cbc.ca/books/2013/01/alone-with-everyone.html
Social Media's Small, Positive Role in Human Relationships: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/social-medias-small-positive-role-in-human-relationships/256346/
The Flight From Coversation: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html?_r=0
Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/308930/
On Turning Into Robots or Something: http://www.blogthecat.ca/blogthecat/2012/05/on-turning-into-robots-or-something.html