If it isn’t on the Internet, it didn’t happen. At least, that’s what it seems like to live in a world that is so dependent on the world wide web and, in a quickly increasing rate, on social networks. It doesn’t matter which one we are talking about: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest… Although Facebook still holds the greatest popularity as a social media site, most people have more than one or two social networking platforms.
When you go to Facebook’s homepage, it is stated that “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life”. There is no doubt that social networks have helped us reach people, places and cultures from across the world, joining us all in a global village. These platforms have been very important in sharing news of global events and gaining support from around the Planet: for instance, the Arab Spring. And let’s face it: it is great to become friends with people from the other side of the world, to keep in touch with those who move to far away countries and to learn of the most recent trends in another continent. However, as with everything in life, there is both good and bad, both light and darkness… And social networks have their very own downsides.
Nowadays, people are so busy talking to each other over a computer, a tablet or an Iphone that they hardly seem to remember what it is like to speak face to face. Moments are lost in conversations that flow through a screen, a physical distance disguised by the illusion that we are yet close to those we are speaking to. Yes, we use Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all the others to communicate with friends from across the world… but we also use them to speak with those who are in our very own cities, in our very own schools and workplaces, perhaps even in our own neighbourhoods. While social networks may appear to bring people closer (and, on some cases, they do) they also distance ourselves from many of those we could share a closer connection with.
My question is: do social networks truly “help you connect and share with the people in your life” then? What are we sharing? Songs, films, photographs, gossip, random conversations… and interesting, important news too. But perhaps a wiser question would be: what are we not sharing? We are leaving out the sounds of our own voices, the incredible human presence and warmth of talking to someone by our side, the excitement of laughing at the same time or even crying. This may seem like a slobbery speech, but is not Humankind made of this? Of being with each other, of talking to each other, of experiencing life together?
I wonder if we can truly experience life together, sharing it through a screen…
Of course, the other downside of social networks is that they create an escape route for us, one that can relieve us from awkward conversations or embarrassing moments… but that can also make us see ourselves – and others – in a false and illusive way. How easy is it to lie when you are safely guarded by a screen? How easy is it to pretend that you are someone you are not when you’re talking to somebody through a screen? It all comes back to this, does it not? To this screen, this physical barrier that separates us. A lack of trust and honesty arises from this universe that allows us to pretend, to lie, to idealize and to deceive not only others, but ourselves.
In the end, it all comes down to the individual. Not everybody is acting when they speak to someone on Facebook or some other social network. Between those who do, many may not do it with the purpose of hurting or tricking others; they may only do it out of a low self-esteem or a lack of confidence in themselves. However, how can we truly tell who is being honest and who isn’t? For people who value sincerity and openness, social networking can be really confusing. How can we trust others when they are hiding behind a screen?
Maybe we should stop building a screen between us. Maybe we should try and share with others personally. Maybe we should learn to balance things out: yes, we should use social networks; but we must not let them distract us from being with other people, to experience life together in a genuine, personal way.