Monday, June 11, 2007

Virtual Socialising

There was a time where people interested in computers and the internet were considered to be geeky and the past time consigned to a bunch of spotty, pasty teenagers hunched over a computer until stupid o'clock in the morning delighting in the latest hack to an academic or military network. We've come a long way since then. Those nerdy sorts are now millionaires. Reap what you sow, or so the saying goes. And they have developed such technologies that have most of the population ranging from teenagers to thirty-somethings desperate for their next fix.

What am I talking about here? I'm talking about the social networking revolution. Many of my friends have subscribed to social gateway networks on the internet. The formula is simple. Enter your details about your pet hates, favorite music etc, as much as you like or as little depending on how paranoid you are. Other people sign up and search for friends, family, exes, someone to stalk. People share pictures and videos, join groups discussing everything from the smell of Superman's pants to serious political debate. People can describe at anytime of the day their mood or what they are doing. This is all very compelling stuff. Addictive for some. Frighteningly so.

So what benefits can we get out of this new form of communication? Meeting old friends from school, college, university or work. Family members who live several continents away. I have managed to find friends and family and social networks are a great way of inviting people to events such as birthdays, drinking sessions, charity stuff etc.

Are there any negatives to this? Possibly. Stalkers would have a field day. How much would you want other people to know things about you. Then there is the unsaid one upmanship about the number friends that people have. Too few and that person can be seen as a social outcast. Billy no-mates. Too many, and people wonder if all those people really are their friends and that possibly just bumping into a stranger is excuse enough to warrant including that person as a friend. Perhaps these attention seeking folk clearly don't feel secure enough with the number of "proper" they have. School ground mentality is what I'm thinking. Who am I to criticise? This isn't about who's more popular than who although people of a certain age or mentality would like to think so.

So on to the addictiveness of these social networks. Simply put, it appeals to peoples voyeuristic nature. I've read and heard fellow social networkers spending lots of time catching up with what other people are getting up to or looking at recently posted pictures/videos that other people have put up.

I've read articles on this subject in various magazine publications. The latest being GQ. For their particular study, they chose people from different walks of life who have subscribed to these social networks who have all the symptoms of a 40 a day cigarette smoker. Yes, trying to wean themselves down to a few minutes a day on these networks. I'm not criticising these users as I am a member of the community too. I've had time to step back from what this has become just for a moment to see what kind of impact it is having on everyday life. I've heard of cases where friends on these social networks communicate with each other even though they are in the same office block or even worse, just a few desks away. That shouts of serious mental issues to me. I unfortunately have been rather ill for sometime so the only socialising I have been able to do is via social networking. Some people (fit and healthy) clearly need to see some one who specialises in addictive disorders.

The strange thing is, despite moving civilisation and communication between people in the direction of a bit of desk space and the eerie glow of a computer monitor, there is much fun to be had. For people with disabilities, it is a invaluable tool. For people always on the go, a life line to keep in contact with friends and family, but.....

....what ever happened to picking up the telephone and calling someone?

No comments: