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Social Life

Our Digital Social Life

Accelerated by the pandemic, is a digital social life here to stay?

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
Are we creating a digital divide?
Source: from Pexels by Ketut Subiyanto

Many of us have expanded our circle of contacts in recent years using many social media platforms. The coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated this move into a digital social life.

Technology impacts aspects of our lives in ways few had imagined mere decades or so ago. Since the advent of social media, many of us began exploring the world of virtual relationships. The Internet generally has a positive impact on global information sharing. And yet the way we exchange information has changed as we moved to digital and away from live interactions. Throughout history we have had conversations, told stories, and shared our folklore. From family and friends, to coworkers, to students and teachers, we used to get together in person. Now, much interaction takes place online.

Even video chating—while letting us view each other during phone calls or meetings is nice—is not the same as meeting in person. Is it? There clearly is a growing digital wall between us.

What exactly has changed? Lack of shared odors? I don’t think we miss smelling coffee, cologne, photocopy toner, or bad breath? That’s not the magic sauce that makes live face-to-face interactions more fun. What is it?

Body language? It’s hard to say exactly what is missing from digital visits. All I know is that since the pandemic, I miss human contact. Is it touch that’s missing? Touch is very important for human relations. But now social distancing applied the brakes on touching. We use sterile fist, elbow or foot bump greetings now — perhaps we just couldn’t do away with physical contact?

Perhaps I’m missing the general feeling of human contact that comes with sharing a space with others. Just knowing there are others around can be comforting. Even in a packed video meeting, many of us are still somewhere by ourselves. Surrounded yet alone? The introverted folks may have done better with social distancing, but sociable personality types are feeling especially lonely these days. The Zoom and FaceTime meetings will just have to do, but we may have to try a little harder to maintain our connections with each other. Is there someone you should reach out to and say “Hello?”

The “digital divide” does not only refer to the disparity between haves and have-nots in terms of access to technology. There is also a growing “digital divide” between all of us — as we rely more and more on our phones and devices for virtual “personal” contact.

Am I the only one that hopes we don’t let video contact become the default method of togetherness?

More from Jeffrey N Pickens Ph.D.
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