The Nature Of Our Dual Existence:

Self-isolation and lockdowns have made physical human contact sparse and even nonexistent for us. Until we can ease back ourselves into the physical world without trepidation, our online lives must sustain our wellbeing.

But, to do that in a positive and uplifting way, we must unlearn a few behaviors. Here’s what we’re accustomed to doing while engaging with others online.

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ONE: We confuse digital cheers for connection.

Digital Cheers:

We are living in times when technology has become a means for self-expression. We are measuring our social currency in the number of likes and hearts our Instagram or Twitter posts receive. Our content curation skills are on the rise as we become masters of content generation and distribution. Cue, how many filters and retakes does that one perfect selfie get?

Superficial Social Capital:

Likes, comments, shares – This is the Attention Economy that we live in. Consequently, we are victims of the reinforcement paradigm. We are taking down pictures if they don’t get enough likes. Middle school kids post mostly after 5pm on Instagram, so they can get the most activity on their posts.

Are we becoming a generation of tech junkies giving props via likes and hearts to others’ artfully curated and crafted social media posts?

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TWO: We confuse 24/7 connectivity for deep communication.

Brains on Tech:

The brain is a social organ and it thrives on connection with others. And because social networks readily offer this promise, their lure is undeniable. But, imagine maintaining a social circle of 400 friends in real life. Are we really adding to or replacing relationships using technology as a medium?

Tech and Relationships:

Relationships thrive online only when they are anchored in real life. Not the other way around. We are available constantly to our loved ones although we’re always communicating with them in isolation.

Conflict Resolution:

There are social skills like empathy and conflict resolutions that are only learnt through physically interacting with others. Touch and sensory exchange is necessary for emotional and social development.

Nature of Communication:

Our communication is becoming more and more linear. We equip ourselves with smileys and emojis and are more creative with our messages than ever before. But our messages have no tone, none of our intended emotion and our intended nonverbal cues.

As a result of only exchanging verbal communication, our emotions are not perceived and processed correctly by the receiver. While we continue to communicate this way, we only engage our left brain which is logical and literal. We leave emotion behind, because our brains don’t see the need to read nonverbal cues in a text message or a Facebook message.

Eye contact literally builds trust. And without face to face conversations it’s difficult to find common ground. And there by building rapport and build thriving social networks in real life is impossible.

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THREE: This is a big one. We confuse arm chair activism for civic engagement.

Mask or no-mask, social distancing or not, “Six feet apart or six feet under”, slogans to voice which side of any argument you’re on have been raging for weeks on the internet. Isn’t it amazing how much we love to be outspoken especially when we’re behind a veil of anonymity.

Technology has given the common man a platform for arm chair advocacy and activism. Gone are the days when movements and protests took weeks and months to organize. The means by which activists are making protests, petitions and persuasion tactics for change in mass mentality using online methods has risen to what’s being referred to as Keyboard activism. Like in traditional activism, unfortunately, most people engage in this form of activism if its easy (in this case, a click of button to spread the message), non-committal and comes at no particular personal cost.

To stop seeing fake ‘copyright’ status updates which started with “I do declare the following…..”, we’re carefully hiding those updates not realizing all the time we’re wasting. We’re turning into an armchair activists by asking others to support digital equality this or net neutrality that, not fully understanding what those words mean to us. How effective all these calls of actions we are making if we’re not taking time to validate them?

Here’s the bottom line. Our online lives are not helping us create and sustain deep relationships. Technology is empowering but is it teaching us empathy?

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