We live in a digital world where life’s big moments are shared on Instagram, day-to-day updates are posted on Twitter, and friends are added on Facebook. Also, apps such as Tinder and Bumble have changed the way we date. A constant online presence has made it difficult to have relationships offline.
Take lawyer Sanjay Kumar’s case. The 25-year-old says he starts the day by reading the latest updates on social media, while his favourite way to unwind at night is by chatting with friends. “I don’t remember the last time I had a conversation with my family at home. Even during dinner, we are all on our gizmos, including my parents. I know what is happening in my family because of posts on social media. But, we don’t talk much in real life despite sharing a house,” he says.
These days, thanks to the Internet, relationships develop and thrive on the basis of posts and tweets, a change in status, or by sending and receiving a text. Little is being done to build a bond the traditional way –– whether it is when you meet someone new or manage an existing relationship. Also, the pressure to get online is immense. The number of friends or followers one has on social media acts as an ego boost and, at times, determines one’s offline popularity too. While youngsters feel the maximum pressure, even older generations succumb and create a Facebook or Twitter account, or download apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram, to feel connected with the younger members of the family. And when one can make and break relationships, or deal with existing ones, with just a post, bonds in the real world seem avoidable.
Clinical psychologist Varsha Vartak admits that the more time one spends online, the less time one gets to spend with people. This leads to a huge communication gap, leading to poor interpersonal relationships. “So, handling the complexities of real relationships — be it friends, a spouse, or even parents and siblings — may seem difficult,” she says. Dr Kersi Chavda, consultant in psychiatric medicine, adds, “Friendships and relationships made on social media can be put on hold. A person communicates only when he or she has the time or the inclination. When more and more time is spent online, face-to-face relationships and interactions suffer. After all, actual people are more difficult to deal with. They fight and can become irritable. On the net, however, most people put their best faces forward.”
Dealing with it
Not surprising then, to counter this trend, according to a survey released by Ofcom in August, one in three Britons is choosing to undergo a “digital detox” to focus on their work and relationships. A majority said their digital obsession negatively affected their offline lives: nearly half said they had ignored household chores and put off sleep as a result of spending too much time online, while a third felt they had neglected family and friends for their devices.
Apart from opting for a digital detox, experts also suggest that people should be realistic about relationships in the real and the virtual world. While there is no harm in having a strong digital presence, one needs to make time for family, siblings, a spouse or friends, and stop taking them for granted. “Talking and face-to-face interactions with your loved ones are also important to have a good mental and physical health,” says Vartak. Taking a break from gizmos for at least 30 minutes daily is also recommended. Subhash Karnik, clinical psychologist, says, “The aim is to have a balance in life. Technology is a big part of our lives. What we need to ensure is that it doesn’t become our whole life. The repercussions of that could range from loneliness and low self-esteem to overdependence on technology and even Internet addiction.”
‘My relationships have fallen apart’
It began innocently. I’d go online to check emails and to chat. I enjoyed being on forums, discussing topics of interest with like-minded people from across the world. It felt great making new connections that went beyond my immediate circle of friends and colleagues. Soon, I was spending more time online. I began skipping office parties, invitations to family get-togethers were ignored and night outs with friends were ditched. Now, my relationships have fallen apart. My health has also been affected. I have gained weight by staying at home all the time, I sleep less as I am spending time online and I have lost the ability to hold conversations in the real world. This is taking a toll on my professional life. I am seeking help, but I never knew things would go so bad so soon.
- Anjali Thakur*, marketing professional
*Name changed on request