Social Networking – developing social skills or creating anti-social tendencies

 In General

Technology, low or high, always has various applications and cannot in itself be imbued with value judgements. A rope can be used to hang a man or save him from drowning. Similarly, social networking can be a way of keeping active, healthy friendships current or it can be isolating, reducing “friendships” to online contact only and banishing them to the realms of fantasy.

I have a neighbour who is incapable now of picking up an A to Z to look up a street. What would have taken a couple of minutes takes an age as he boots up, selects an application, guesses at the postcode, tries to get the map to fit a format that his printer can handle etc etc. He even sat on a train, missing glorious scenery outside the window whilst following the journey on his sat nav and interjecting gems such as “we are crossing a river” [yep, I can see that out of the window; I even know what river it is because I just read the sign] and “the train is travelling at 30mph” [didn’t need to know that and neither did he]. Don’t get me started on his use of chat rooms; suffice to say that he thinks he is boosting his chances of dating by using the pseudonym “Adonis” which he assured me is the title of a Shakespeare play. Couldn’t even be bothered to look it up on Wiki it seems.

Whilst we all model and mould the “truth” to suit circumstances, withholding details when brevity is required or to spare feelings, purely online relationships can be conducted with no regard to actualities whatsoever. This eventually must effect users; most of us have been guilty of believing our own publicity at some point in our lives or embroidering the truth to make a good story, which in time, becomes our “memory”. Software applications have become very sophisticated and hunching over that screen can be very addictive indeed. It is not just adolescents that can come to replace real interaction with electronic communication.

There are agencies in Japan, that most technologically advanced nation, that supply “friends”, “family” and “colleagues” on demand. This includes professional wedding guests to impress the in-laws, indeed hand-picked individuals to impress whomsoever desired it would seem. Who knows, maybe the “in-laws” are actors, supplied by your partner. Who do we trust when so much of a relationship is built on air? Demand for instant friends, family and colleagues is burgeoning, not least as the impossibility of living up to fantasies implodes. The consequences are a modern form of hermitism – there is even a term for it “hikikomori”. Sufferers just shut themselves away, minimising contact and becoming violent when challenged.

Where before we might have contacted friends when momentous events happened, heaven forefend even once a year in a round robin, the pressure to be constantly in touch and to update contacts with the minutiae of one’s life leads to dangerous introspection. If my life is not so exciting that it is worth tweeting about several times a day, I must be doing something wrong – or I must make it up. It is difficult to resist without sounding like an anchorite or at least a smug git: “I’m too busy DOING things to tell anyone about it”; just as excluding. There must be a middle way, surely? Do tell.

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