Social media is the most passive form of social interaction, giving a complete new meaning to the phrase: “alone in a crowd”. (Shutterstock)
Social media is the most passive form of social interaction, giving a complete new meaning to the phrase: “alone in a crowd”. (Shutterstock)

Global Village Idiot: Present, but absent in the always connected digital world

Of course, gratification options and cycles are also much shorter, but the emotional life of the average human seems to have become a rubber band - constantly stretching and easing
By Sanjay Mukherjee
UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2021 04:11 PM IST

One of the most deep-rooted needs of a human being, is the need to belong.

It is a core need that is also an intrinsic motivation among humans, a motivation that drives many actions and decisions... and also instils the fear of being alone.

I have kind of always suspected the co-relation between needing to belong and the fear of being alone, but the past five years has been an education, thanks, of course, to Facebook and Whatsapp in particular.

It’s one thing to share life experiences. It’s another thing to do stuff alone, and then while you’re doing it, to be on social media exhorting others to do the same thing.

Stuff like: I’m sitting down to watch this great movie on so-and-so channel - why don’t you watch the same movie? Or, I am all ready to watch the Euro 2020 match and ordered kebabs from Wah Wah restaurant, why don’t you do the same… you get the drift.

It’s absolutely fabulous, this inability to do anything on one’s own, to have this need to be talking to someone, anyone, all the time. It’s as if you are running away from yourself, fearful even to be with yourself, afraid to be alonnnnnne.

I like company, I like talking to people, meeting friends and strangers alike, learning new things, listening to what others are doing, spending time on social media… but, I love my own company.

Being on your own, without the need to connect, takes practice if you are not “born to it”. And it’s much easier being connected to others online than being with people face-to-face (you have to pick and choose company, take the good with the bad, etc), or with yourself (too many decisions and thoughts to deal with). Online networks are fantastic because you can decide what to react to, what not to, and keep saying/sharing/communicating all you want to.

The online world fulfils one need that is greater than belonging: the need to be heard.

Most people listen because they await the opportunity to speak, and social media is the perfect anti-thesis of socialising - it’s a media that allows you to stay in society, even if you are anti-social at your core, and to keep expressing yourself without the burden of listening.

In fact, social media is the most aggressively passive form of social interaction I have ever encountered. And it gives a complete new meaning to the phrase: “Alone in a crowd”. It’s fascinating.

It also brings a whole new level of performance into classrooms and workplaces. What’s the most common behaviour I see at work and in online education?

People engaged in a web session and chatting simultaneously with (many) peers on the inbuilt messaging platform. Absent, but present.

Classic example: last year I was engaged for a couple of hours a week as a mentor to a group of educators and teens. I remember having lively chat discussions on business solutions and processes, while they were attending school meetings and sessions. That’s multitasking while multi-jobbing. And to their credit, the educators and students delivered great solutions to the project and am sure delivered very good work at school as well.

But, the same technology environment also brings a whole new series of levels of procrastination into classrooms and workplaces. With everyone always connected and engaged, work seems to be taking twice sometimes thrice as long as it used to.

The number of iterations has also increased exponentially, which in turn has made project planning and execution much less predictable and much more challenging.

Am not sure how all this is going to turn out. There’s a lot of good that’s coming out of these developments, but I can also see a lot of changes in the behaviour of people due to these changed circumstances.

Changes that may lead to other long-term personality changes and give rise to newer wellness and mental health challenges. The cycle of performance and gratification, for instance, is now a daily cycle.

Which also means, people are going through intense emotions related to performance, judgment, acceptance, rejection, adjustment, reconciliation on a daily basis at the very least. Which means the pressure on the neural system and the physical body is tremendously higher.

Of course, gratification options and cycles are also much shorter, but the emotional life of the average human seems to have become a rubber band - constantly stretching and easing.

I wonder if anyone is doing a study to predict how often these rubber bands are going to snap…

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