Social Media is not Social Interaction

Social Media MadnessMy role as a technology evangelist is to bring the good news about technology to you. Well there is good news and there is bad news. And as with most people I’m sure you prefer the bad news first. A question I want you to ask yourself before I share that news with you is this: is technology really neutral or is it biased based on the inherent function that is is designed for?

Anyway here’s the bad news: there is a myth promulgated that in today’s society that social media is social interaction. How can you compare a conversation at a braai to a conversation on Twitter? How can you compare a conversation over the dinner table with a conversation on a Facebook discussion group? How can you compare an intimate conversation late at night with your lover to the same conversation using MXit?

It is my opinion that we’ve reached a stage in our evolution as the human species, in the 21st century, that we’ve become chronically dependant on technology. Children born after 1985 or 1990 cannot imagine a world without cellphones, 24 hour television or the Internet. What do I mean when I say chronic dependency? I simply mean that we do not even realise to what extent we rely on these technologies until they are taken away from us.

Think back to the last time your cellphone battery died. How did you feel? Think back to the last time your Internet connection was down for a few hours. How  did you feel? Think about the last time the electricity in your neighbourhood was down. How did you feel? Some of you may have felt anger, some may have felt disgust, or resentment. However, I would vouchsafe that the real feeling beneath the exterior aggression was one of helplessness.

Now when I posted this comment on my Twitter/Facebook status the first person stated that it is not wrong or right. Well I go on the record now by saying it wrong to believe that social media interaction is the same as social interaction without social media. They are not the same and they are certainly not equivalent. I came to this conclusion after speaking to at tens of thousands of people across South Africa for the last few years on the psychology of technology.

When you correlate the use of our 5 senses in communication with that of “communicating through the screen” you realise to what extent we’ve come to accept this substandard way of communicating as genuine. When you are texting or using MXit, you cannot see the other person, hear the other person, touch the other person, smell the other person, let alone taste the other person. So you are not using any of your 5 senses in the interaction. When you do not use your 5 senses you are making decisions based on an exceptionally limited amount of information.

Yes its my opinion after observing thousands of South Africans interact using MXit, Facebook, Internet Dating and other technologies and convincing themselves its the equivalent of social interaction or let me rather say, face to face interaction.

The facts remain that we are like zealots when justifying our chronic dependency on technology. Agree or disagree?