Thursday 22 August 2013

Social interaction needs more than social media

Image by lusi
A couple of days ago, I posted a link on my various social media pages to this particular article, in which it is posited that social media is actually making us lonely. Author Jessica Hazel points out that "we tirelessly tweet and update alone from our bedrooms and offices whilst feeling that we are acting in an accessible and sociable manner", and even goes so far as to state that "the reality is that Facebook often just makes you feel like everyone is having an amazing time all the time apart from little sad you". I mostly agree with the points she raises, although when she discusses the fact that it's easier to feel lonely when you're sat at home and your news feed is full of all the exciting things everyone else is doing, she also neglects to mention that the people who are out having fun may feel the same way when they're at home and you're out. She also doesn't discuss the peculiar phenomenon that even when you are out socially with other people, most people are still glued to social media. I can't count the number of times I've been sitting talking to someone while they've been scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. How often does the shout go up of "Well THAT'S going on Facebook?" whenever we say something we feel is so funny or insightful that it must be shared with the wider group?

For me, social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it makes it much easier (and cheaper) to connect with people in far flung places. I can't just head down to my local Costa with Nerine Dorman or Carrie Clevenger so until I can, I have email to keep us together. If it wasn't for social media, I wouldn't have 'met' one of my most trusted beta readers, Rob Diaz. I wouldn't be involved in all the publishing things I've done, or am doing. It also makes organising things easier as you can contact several people at once to arrange an outing or a meet up, and keep everyone in the loop as to what's going on. Social media lets us be social with anyone we want to talk to. On the other hand, it is very easy for me to sit at home, looking at all the fun and amazing things other people are doing, while I'm sat on the sofa watching yet another poor attempt at a horror film, while I wonder why no one thought to invite me. I actually miss calling people to ask how they're getting on, and to have a catch up. It's easy to feel such interactions are pointless since I can keep up with their lives online. Why would I phone someone when I can just nip onto Facebook to see what they're up to?

I think we need to have a balance. I went to the pub last night with the very talented Tony Bengtsson (I interviewed him last year and his music is here - go and have a listen) and I only felt compelled to check my phone about three times. Conversation flowed, ideas were exchanged, and it was a good night of discussion and social interaction. If it were The Sims, those social points would have been racking up in a way they just don't do if you're only talking to someone through Facebook Messenger. You can add all the emoticons you want, and pepper your text with 'lol' but no text-based dialogue can truly replace a proper conversation, with all of the unconscious body language and vocal intonations. It's especially valuable for writers - we need that social interaction for story fodder, and for character ideas. It's the little personality quirks that you only see in person that bring characters to life.

So I say use social media, get to know people on the other side of the world, but don't focus on it at the expense of social interactions in your immediate vicinity.


Tony Noland said...

The biggest problem I see with it is that most people tend not to tweet or post when they're having a boring, lousy time, unless they want to liven that moment up by social interaction. It makes all the stuff that happens online surreal, like a party where everyone is always having a good time.

Turning it off is just a reminder that, while you all are off having fun together, I have to be the boring guy who has to go home early so I can get up for work in the morning.

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