Comment on Social Networking Tools and our Future Society

rene Sun, Nov 23, 2008
Whenever people bemoan the move away from physical contact that is supposedly happening in out time, I tend to argue the following: First of all, one has to wonder how much social networking in reality takes away from people getting together when they're still going to school and to work, not to mention the ever growing opportunities to see bands and other events at en ever growing number of venues. On the other hand I firmly believe that further virtualization of our world is inevitable and that the impact that will have on our physical existence will continue to change. Still, as is usually the case with technology-driven changes the new modes of existence will not replace the old ones but modify them and more often than not be complementary.

Which is not to say that there won't be a fair amount of alienation in the process (i.e. mass migration to cities causing alienation from the natural environment, etc.), but there is no reason to assume that people will soon lose interest in other people. Nevertheless, I believe that, whatever one's priorities, people are wasting enormous amounts of time transporting themselves to the sites of their education or their jobs that could be put to better use. All that is needed to at least partially remedy that maybe an enhanced visual component to our online communications, which will bring people together from all over the world and foster new communities. This doesn't take away of the power of minds communicating without any visual representation which in many instances adds a dimension to intellectual discourse, but it will at least to some extent restore people's propensity for social bonding.

In effect, rather than impeding physical contact, our increasing virtual immersion may ultimately elevate the status of physical togetherness to highly valued privileged moments and levels of intimacy that may exceed today's personal relationships and broaden one's circle of friends.

Still, direct physical confrontation is not always an advantage because it may bring with it a whole series of physical effects that may just as soon be a detriment to social relationships. After all, the body, with all its complex chemical reactions and visual connotations is often a source of interference. Cyrano de Bergerac, for example, could only relate his deepest poetic feelings to his beloved through the mediation of a stand-in delivering his words, just like we on this site mostly share our thoughts through made up user names and icons, feeling little or no need to refer to our physical existence.