Online social interaction has taken over our lives. I doubt I know more than a handful of people who aren’t on Facebook and/or some other form(s) of social media. Is all this online communication, partnered with less time spent face-to-face, changing our social interactions?
My initial response was yes. I know I stay in contact, albeit quite passively, with far more people thanks to Facebook. I have been able to reconnect with friends and extended family, none of whom I have seen in many years. It is quite likely that I would never have interacted with any of these people again were it not for Facebook, and for that I am grateful. It is so easy to look at someone’s profile or exchange a few short emails and get a sense of bonding, or feeling connected. However, that connection can be (and, for me, often is) rather superficial. Many of these are not the people I would invite into my home or choose to visit or travel with. They are not the people I would go to if I needed help. I like seeing their recent photos, knowing how they are, what they’ve been up to the last decade or so, etc; however, without occasionally spending time together, in the same physical place, my relationships with these Facebook friends do not generally develop beyond the level of acquaintance.
Then I actually thought about it. I realized that the status updates, photos, and timelines are carefully selected in order to manufacture the image that you desire to portray – the same way you choose the clothing that represents who you are or want to be (granted, this method has been around a little longer than online social media). As I researched, I found many arguments that online communication not only changes nothing about our social interaction, but also has merely become another way for us to attain and display status. In a recent TED Talk, Nicholas Christakis, Professor of Sociology at Harvard, contends that our social networks affect us in every bit the same way, whether online or in person. Dario Maestripieri, a professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago, asserts that “people are using technology to do what comes naturally to the human species – not to converse but to compete for status.” This article in The Standard Examiner goes on to say that “our instinct for social climbing…goes back at least 20 million years.” As someone who particularly loves history, I find this perspective incredibly fascinating. And true. I’ll save you from the history lesson, but this same competition for status is evidenced throughout the ancient world.
Communication skills have always affected one’s status – in ancient Greece and Rome, it was one’s oratory skills which were highly prized; in Medieval England, it was penmanship; today it is one’s status updates or tweets. The technology and methodology may have changed, but human nature has remained the same.