The Social Disconnect Of The Digital Age Makes Some Of Us More Social

With the rise of popularity of social networking (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and digital communication (email and texting), there’s also a rise in editorials and blog entries about how all of this interfacing at a keyboard or a phone pad is making us more disconnected. I would like to say, with 100% sincerity, that this is not true for me in the least bit. Every time I read these articles or blog entries about people missing socializing the “old way” I think, “No! I didn’t like the old way!”

Let me tell you why.

  • No more avoiding talking to people because I hate the phone. I hate talking on the phone. HATE IT. I used to love it back when I was a smoker because I would go outside, have a cigarette, and talk on the phone. This was also before Nikki and Wes so I didn’t have small kids who would pester me when I’m on the phone. They could ignore me for hours but the second I get a phone call? They need me for everything. But – it’s not just the no smoking and the noisy children. I just get weirdly awkward on the phone. My brain freezes. I can’t answer questions on the spot without stammering. I forget key bits of information and I say super-stupid things. I was on the phone with someone once when they called with a question and I completely forgot their Mom had just died. I’m just HORRIBLE on the phone. The popularity of texting and email gives me opportunities to communicate with people without a phone call, so I’m less likely to avoid communicating in general.
  • I can think about what I’m going to say or how I’m going to respond. Being able to communicate with someone on a keyboard means I’ve got time to consider my response. I can formulate well thought-out questions and answers and am less likely to forget important details about the person I’m talking to. TIME. I’m a great communicator if you give me the luxury of TIME.
  • Communicating is painless/easy. If I just want to go to lunch with someone? I shoot them an email or a text message. If we’re planning a group gathering? Facebook group. It’s so much easier to plan social interactions online so they actually get planned which is not something that would have happened before because someone has to be willing to call all of those people. I would never call someone to go to lunch with me if I missed them, but I would send them a Facebook message or an email. I don’t like just dropping by people’s homes to see if they wan to visit, but I’ll shoot a text saying, “We’re taking the family to eat Mexican tonight, want to join us?”
  • Social networks allow me to keep up with someone’s life so when I do see them, I have something to talk about. I used to be the type of person that would avoid faces I know at the grocery store. But now? I don’t! Because I keep up with people online so when I see them I have something to talk about. How’s the college prep? Softball? The musical you’re in? How’s the renovations or the new job? Facebook gives me a foundation of knowledge for people that I might not get otherwise, and this makes maintaining friendships so much easier. When I see someone I can jump right in with a relevant question about their current life so it’s comfortable and familiar. Facebook is especially instrumental in this which is why I tend to scoff when I see people talking about how Facebook makes them less connected because it fosters more solid connections in my life.
  • Let’s me see connections I wouldn’t normally see. I love finding out that a running buddy loves Harry Potter or that a book club member watches Doctor Who. Sometimes you find out this stuff in face-to-face interactions, but often I just notice it on Facebook or Twitter. And then, I think, that person I would normally only see at theatre meetings likes the same books I do and I’ll foster a closer relationship with them because of that bond. Of course, it can also work the other way, which is why I don’t like sending friend requests unless I know for sure you have stuff in common with me. I’ve learned that casual contacts are anti-gay rights through Facebook and that’s such an important cause in my life that it dampers deeper relationship potential. But…that’s a time saver too, I guess. I can’t get too close to someone who wouldn’t want my friends and family to have equal rights, so might as well find that out early on! Just like how if you post something about loving John Green I’m going to want to get you a BFF charm bracelet. The extra knowledge a Facebook profile can give me is essential in determining whether or not I’ll email you stupid jokes about pranks to play on a Whovian.
  • I can revisit social encounters. This is the best part, to me. When I do have an awkward phone call or run-in, I can re-establish the communication online. Before – you just had to wait until the next time you saw that person to mend the faults created with an awkward encounter. (And trust me. I had/have a LOT of awkward encounters. I’m seriously not good on the spot.) When it happens now? I can send an email or a text. I can write a Facebook message that says, “Sorry I wasn’t encouraging when we spoke this morning…” which is exactly what I did this week. I am the kind of person that thinks of the perfect response and hour later. Or even worse: I think of the most HORRIBLE response in that moment instead of just not saying anything at all. But when all of those wonderful social screw-ups happen now? I can rectify them when I have time with my phone keypad or an email. This keeps an embarrassing moment from lingering over my head and allows me to right a wrong before the next time I see someone.

So…Yeah. Maybe for some people this digital age of communication has made them less personable, less in touch, less social. But for me? It’s done just the opposite. My social anxieties aren’t as severe. My circle of friends is not as small. My love of people is greater and my social calendar more active. Of course, I have to be deligent about this. I keep my Facebook friends organized into groups so that it’s easier to keep up with the people I might see regularly, versus my high school classmates who I’ll only see every few years. I try to respond to emails immediately, but this is inhibited by the ability to check my email on my phone. Often I’ll see one on my phone but am unable to respond in the necessary length and then have kinda forgotten the immediacy by the time I get to a computer. I’ll still respond, but it might be late. This all doesn’t make me perfect at socializing by any means, but it does make me better…not worse.

15 Comments

  • Jen

    I totally agree with you. I have major social anxiety and just like you get totally awkward in social situations. The popularity of texting and other social media has helped me for the exact same reasons that you mentioned. It is wonderful for those of us who are not naturally outgoing or social.

  • Swistle

    I completely agree. I connect more, I socialize more, I maintain relationships I otherwise would have let go—and I mean the GOOD friendships, not the “oh, some girl I went to high school with, I don’t remember her.” When I can use a computer, I stay in touch, I make arrangements, I don’t retreat and drop out and hide…as much. I get very cranky when I keep hearing “Unplug and have a REAL LIFE.” That may apply to some people who RETREAT because of online stuff (cutting out in-person friends to play games or whatever), but not to everyone—and my guess is, not to a LARGE NUMBER of everyone.

  • Amber

    I love this! I’m going to email this to my husband. You get me (and a bunch of other people). Thanks!!

  • Swistle

    Oh, also! Also! I find that online socializing has given me valuable experience dealing with social interactions, which I can then apply to in-person situations. I’ve LEARNED things online about socializing that I don’t think I would have learned if I’d had to use only in-person social situations—because in-person, I’m too focused on surviving to pay attention to the actual interaction. Online, I can think it through; then later, in person, I remember the things I had time to think through.

    • Zoot

      YES. My brain, in face-to-face situations, is focused 90% on not humiliating myself. Whereas online it’s only 5%. So the takeaway of wisdom can be greater!

  • Crysta

    I have always approved of the electronic communication options. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love that I can keep up with a 100+ person friend list by reading updates and choosing to send a message here and there or comment when I need more information about any given situation. But I hate how facebook tries to dictate how to use the service or pushes too hard to make everything all about facebook. Seriously, it gave me a message one day I needed to reconnect with my husband. Because as you might expect he and I don’t interact a lot on Facebook itself, cuz you know we live together. I don’t use Twitter because I don’t like the way it works. But I don’t feel that any of this inhibits people from keeping connections they make in person open and active.

    When I got to college and the internet was available to me consistently, I started to meet people all over the world and have kept in touch with many for almost two decades, online, and there are some that I have had the fortune to meet up with in person as well. I don’t consider a friend that I’ve spent hours and hours discussing my life and gushing over my child to, as any less a friend than the kid I played with next door when I was in grade school and I’m still in contact with her now as well. We just shared different experiences and both are equally valid.

    However you and I grew up before these online options were available, and socially awkward or not you still have some experience with the old fashioned way of communicating and being social. I think the problem is that too many younger people, were thrown into the social media interactions without enough options or the push to have the old fashioned type of social experiences as well. So then you have teenagers that only have friends that they talk to online, instead of having a balanced online/offline life. They don’t play sports or have any extracurricular activity or hobby like theater. They sit in front of a pc, all hours of the day and night, talk to people all over the world, all while staying alone. And many adults who try social media feel the same way when the people with the same interests are too far away for them to have any sort of in person contact.

    So I agree with you that these options are very valuable when they are used as supplements to your everyday personal interactions with people. However when they are the only interactions a person has, then it gets to be very unhealthy and that’s why so many people feel negatively towards social activities online. But this is the case with most things in life. Everything in moderation.

    • Zoot

      Oh! I agree for sure about teenagers and the extreme isolation and poor socialization the internet can cause. Yes! Moderation for sure!

      And I think kids don’t know how to use the phone. I nag E all the time when we have to speak on the phone because he has NO phone skills whatsoever. He comes off as rude on the phone when he’s totally not in real life at all.

      • Crystal

        I have similar complaints about my daughter’s skills over the phone. She’s been known to ask someone to ‘hold on’ and ended up leaving them hanging on the phone for large portions of time. You can walk away from a conversation by IM or text to deal with a pet issue or to go dig up an old homework assignment. Doing so on the phone is just rude. The person on the other side of a computer screen has the same option to walk away and do things they need to do, or if it’s on their cell phone just keep putting the phone back into the pocket and finish whatever activity they need to do as well. It doesn’t close the communication to have a lag between responses with electronic communication. It however is very noticeable and frustrating when you are waiting on the phone for someone to come back because you can’t fully give your attention to anything else. There’s no handy beep to say the person has returned like a new IM message gives you.

  • Ginger

    I agree with so, so much of this. For me, I think a big part of it is that I’m naturally an introvert–which (for me) means that I reach a saturation point on people that means at some point my in-person communication really starts to go hide in a corner. But online, I can pause, gather my socializing skills about me, and then head back in. It’s so, so helpful.

    I do have to be careful with the online/offline balance because I can become a hermit (I did that before the online explosion, this just amplifies it), but it has given me so many more connections and friends than I could have ever found on my own. Which, in turn, has given me so many more social events!

  • Lisa

    I agree 100%! I am also socially awkward and have a hard time getting to know new people in person. But thorough the internet (and even before fb) I have met some of my best friends through shared interest groups and message boards. People who live all over the world that I never would have ever met without the net! FB has allowed me to stay in touch with so many different people and on occasion meet new people. Such a time saver too! I am TERRIBLE about remembering birthdays! But facebook comes through every time!

  • Dinwizzle

    So very true for me as well!! It really helps with the folks I don’t see on a regular basis. Then we have rehearsal and a break where there is small talk. I’m TERRIBLE at small talk. But with the help of facebook I can usually remember something interesting about them or a mutual person or even better, they ask me about something in my life I can reply and then say, “and you?” so much easier than before 2004. πŸ™‚

  • Michelle

    I identify with so much of this. I am an introvert with hermit tendencies and email, texting, twitter, Facebook, et al really enables me to be social in a way that I’m comfortable. I think I’ve developed a bit of social anxiety as well, now that I’m not forced into human interaction constantly while working retail.

    But the part that makes the most sense to me? The whole being able to learn so much about a person so quickly, so incase certain ideologies don’t match up (for instance, marriage equality), I can gracefully remove myself from awkward situations BEFORE they even happen.

    Thanks for this.