Thursday, June 9, 2011

Social Media Addiction - Trade Off or Pay Off ?

Is our fascination with YouTube, Twitter and Facebook turning us into a society of distracted, forgetful, shallow human beings? Are we only looking at the pay offs turning our eye on the trade offs of this new found obsession? Is the internet making us dumber?

These days a hot debate has broken out on this topic. Social media on one hand has given us more freedom to express and connect than ever or are we  sacrificing our ability to reflect and create and form meaningful relationships?

There are multiple examples in history which are replete with how some innovations changed the way we lived and worked. Some of which I have just read in few editorials where this debate is getting hotly pursued. For years, Oral recitation and memorizing was the way to pass on information unless the printing press came along, writing was what all of us grew up as and now all we do is type and may be next generation will spend more time in typing and tapping ( on touch screen devices) than we did on paper and pen. We don’t refer to encyclopedias – we google – be it all project works . We don’t even rely on memory for directions- there’s a e-map to show us the way. The beauty has been the way each civilization adapted to these changes and progressed all along. Some actually say that by freeing our brains from so much clutter, we have actually paved way for future innovations and you can say it with the pace with which fundamentals of living are changing today.

Social media is a different ball game all together. The ability to connect with so many people, make yourself heard , make your voice count has catapulted us into a different league. Recent example was Anna Hazare movement against corruption in India . Thousands joined the Facebook group, there were status update in support of the cause. It gave instant gratification to people like us who have a lot to say and we found a forum. However cynics say that’s where the shallowness lie wherein most people talked and talked about it but the same lot will not move their butt to go and join the crusade at Jantar mantar or will not stop from paying a bribe at next instance to get their things facilitated. But then there are some real benefits- people have been able to raise money and donations or even help find a kidnapped boy or even get most autocratic organizations, people, governments to succumb to the “ Virtual Pressure” . We recently had a colleague sudden demise and the facebook group helped couple of us pour out our heart and make peace with this sudden loss.

But then in the days of FB friendships or Twitter chatter  , are we being illusionary about connecting and forging relationships. Some even go onto say that we are eavesdropping at times on conversations 2 different individuals are having. May be yes, excess of everything is bad but social media has helped many of us stay connected with family and friends – meeting them may be only during celebrations or worse funerals. It has helped to share your views to a wider audience. I love reading sliced and diced news pieces rather than relying on my own 1 or 2 newspaper readings. I feel more informed at times as the info sharing by multiple people is well yes as multiple as they are and has helped broaden my knowledge beyond your immediate areas of interest. It surely is a pleasure to see the folks you shared a good part of your life and their family life. I can never imagine our parents generation remaining in touch with so many of their friends. I also feel that if I ever leave work and decide to be at home, I don’t think I can ever get bored or feel that I am wasting my life. There is so much to learn , pick up new skills – all at the click of a button. You can blog, tweet, message- all in one go

But yes , I do squirm at the fact that there are days when as a family , we are browsing on respective phones and the kids on their ipads – all sitting in one room silently. The smell of books with carefully placed bookmarks by the bedside  taken over by Kindle or the charm of having a great conversation over a cup of coffee. For that matter, some of the hobbies we pursued like art , music because we had time are no longer there. You forever fiddle with your phone whether on the move or on a vacation. There is a worry that our kids perhaps will take all this as the new normal . The fact that our attention spans have become much shorter. May be its impacting our relationships. There is one thing to be in touch with a large number of people you have come across in your life but there are some relationships that would have been nurtured and invested in which may be we take for granted- birthday calendars have taken over our memories, a note on the wall instead of a phone call. There is far more information than we can process .

Not clear answers to this debate. For sure for now, I am at least liking the fact of being connected and informed and being “ In the cloud” . Happy to hear your point of views. Will make for an exciting debate but I cannot end this without this quote I read in an article- “ We will be an generation that had information but no context, butter but no bread, craving but no longing- Meg Wolitzer’s”

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