Whether it’s family, friends or work colleagues, we all inevitably lose touch with our various networks – it could be argued this is a completely natural process, whereby over time we align ourselves with individuals we have more in common with, or perhaps who are more relevant given our current circumstances; either way, there is a sort of evolutionary selection process at play in the absence of digital influence.
Social media has of course changed this selection process over the past few decades, slowing the often predictable decay of a relationship through digital reinforcement. But how ‘real’ are these relationships; are we simply prolonging connections that should ‘naturally’ devolve, or is social media an innate extension to how we should be communicating? It’s entirely possible that with the maturity of technology such VR & AR, the observed lack of emotion inherent in online interactions may be alleviated; we may be on the precipice of an elevated, more meaningful social experience, or conversely we could be about to tumble into a world where human emotion is crudely distilled down to its component parts, represented simply as 🙂
We should also consider that our digital identities, and all of our related interactions, will persist online for decades in many cases – this also demands a change in behavior; what we say online, who we say it to, where we say it etc. For example, current or prospective employers can relatively easily search for the ‘real’ you online, rapidly building a profile of you as a ‘brand’; ill-advised posts on social media can come back to bite us all – how much should we sensor ourselves online, especially given many social services blur the lines of personal versus professional (e.g. FB/FB for Work)?
Burning Bridges – “I never burn bridges; I just fail to maintain them, and let them structurally degrade over time.” (Reddit shower-thoughts)
If you’ve never checked out Reddit’ ‘Shower Thoughts’, take 5 minutes and Google search; whilst the content is mostly light humour, some can be NSFW, so perhaps Google at home! The above quote made me chuckle, and then subsequently think a little more deeply about how these kinds of social interactions have radically changed given social media.
I don’t believe I’ve ever ‘burnt a bridge’, definitely not deliberately (and if I have, without my knowledge – sorry about that J), but pre-social media, ‘burning a bridge’ would have taken a good amount of mental and physical energy, whether in person or via voice. However today, with social media, we’re all directly connected to someone, whether that’s Facebook, LinkedIn or some other online service, and being a ‘friend’ or a ‘connection’ carries with it a certain level of professional courtesy and respect. Not accepting a social media invite, or *gasp* de-friending someone, is tantamount to social suicide, making the ‘burning of bridges’ that much easier to achieve. I believe this is even more prevalent with my Gen-Y colleagues, popularized by the movie Unfriended (admittedly, the film presents a fairly extreme reaction to unfriending).
A simple click online can have huge social ramifications; it’s an action that simply doesn’t exist in the real world.
There is a (perhaps obvious) reason for this type of online behaviour, or at least a proposed hypothesis, within the field of neuroeconomics – in short, “a computer does not require cognitive or emotional involvement, making our interaction with it much easier.” (Rilling, Sanfey, Aronson, Nystrom, & Cohen, 2004). Essentially, face-to-face interaction requires much more physiological and cerebral work in interpreting facial expressions & body language, unconsciously constructing a ‘model’ of the individual in terms of who they are, what they believe etc, whereas on the internet, as the old adage goes, ‘nobody knows your a dog’. For this reason, it’s far easier to express more extreme views, perhaps be a little more provocative than in ‘real life’, through not being as emotionally connected.
Talkin’ ’bout my generation
As a member of Generation-X (at least, according to the ONS graph), I’ve seen social media creep into both my personal and professional worlds, mostly for the better I would say, although certainly I’ve had to review my usage more recently, given how most of the site algorithms curate our content. I’m definitely starting to be more selective in my information consumption, and more importantly, in what I post in terms of updates and blog posts. I’ve also taken to spring cleaning my online identity, cleaning up unused sites (Google+ anyone?), even self-censoring in some cases.
Traditionally, we look to our ‘elders’ for advice and wisdom, and I believe that still holds true for the majority of subjects, but in the case of social media, I’m more closely watching my Gen-Y colleagues and friends, seeing how they manage themselves online, as ultimately these individuals will likely steer and define the online etiquette of the future. In doing so, I might also finally learn some of the current gen slang. Totes appropes.
TL;DR – social media should augment real world physical interaction, and not the other way around 🙂