Real connection in the digital age

Social media has changed the way we communicate.
Real connection in the digital age

Social media has changed the way we communicate in unprecedented ways. It keeps us connected with family and friends but also dissolves barriers to bring like-minded communities together. Professionally, it provides a platform to showcase our wares or broadcast our beliefs.

Social media wields considerable political power too – think of how people were mobilized into action by #feesmustfall and #arabspring.

But there are flip sides to our hyper-connectivity. Studies have revealed that too much time spent on social media is bad for our mental health. The pressure to maintain an online presence is not only stressful, it can also reduce productivity and stifle creativity. It’s also addictive, and can – ironically - make us feel lonely and disconnected.

It’s affirming having hundreds of Facebook friends; we all love watching the ‘likes’ tally up when we post something. But if they don’t, if what we share goes unnoticed, we can be left feeling inadequate. And when friends and colleagues document their social lives and achievements online, it can open up room for comparison, leading to feelings of envy, inadequacy, or feelings - real or perceived - of being excluded.

For relationships to grow and deepen, they need to be nurtured through quality time spent together. An accumulation of shared experiences over time is what binds people together. You build up a bank of memories – trips taken, milestones shared, conversations had. Your stories become woven together through memories, both happy and sad, which cements your friendship, often for a lifetime.

It’s hard to form these kinds of bonds online, as they require time and effort and a kind of emotional investment not easily obtained in the one-dimensional virtual world. Emojis can convey humour, laughter and anger – but they don’t compare to hearing someone laugh, enjoying a hug or having a meaningful heart to heart with eye contact.

So while virtual friendships can have huge value - opening up our professional networks and even sparking new friendships – they’re a paltry replacement for the authentic connections grounded in shared experiences that are so important for our health and well-being.

— Zanine Wolf —