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As many people would tell you, we live in a digital age, where half of our world is virtual. In a simple statistic that is now outdated, Johann Hari tells us that “there are 3.2 billion” people who had email accounts at the time of her writing (Hari). Considering how much more digital this world has become, we can assume that the number she gave has since exponentially grown in the past seven years. Taking into account that most people have two, sometimes even three email accounts, the reason being to have one for work purposes and to have one for personal uses, we can easily assume that, despite the fact that only roughly half the people in the world even have internet, the number of email accounts has surpassed the amount of people in the world, which is slowly creeping towards eight billion. With this digital world comes the question, does it bring us closer together or farther apart? The true answer is that it does both, it just depends on which aspect you’re looking at. The digital world platforms that connect us, otherwise known as social media, allows us to meet and stay connected with people, as well as created a new type of clique, but it also desensitizes us to many other things, such as the normal world around us without the constant connection to everywhere else.
Before this digital age, if you wanted to talk to someone, you had to do it in person. If you visited someone or were at a party you would have only those people to talk to. When watching a film with one of these situations, Ali Roff “realised that everyone inside those walls was stuck for the whole evening with whoever was physically there. Unless they asked the host to use their phone and call someone else, they really had to make do with the company of the people who were there in person” but in this digital age you can speak to others that didn’t attend that party, or, if you enjoyed that time, afterward you reminisce on it with the people that were there without having to meet up with them in person again (Roff). It is in this way that you can keep into contact with all those you have met so far, and even know them as if you never left their side, as Ms. Hari says with her friends, she “can tell you what Jess had for lunch, what Rob is listening to at the moment, and how Chris is getting on with his holiday in France. But [she hasn’t] actually spoken to them” she has only been connected to them through this relatively new digital world (Hari). Staying in contact is not the only thing you can do, however, you can also meet many new people, people with similar interests or just random people on the other side of the world. Another statistic from 2011 by Ms. Hari, “five million people in Britain alone are currently seeking love online, and 15 per cent of couples met in cyberspace” which has only since grown with the introduction of more popular dating sites like Tinder, as well as the introduction of sites that boast a higher rate of couples made, like eHarmony, and even dating sites that specifically cater to certain groups, like farmersonly.com.
Also through this digital world a new social group around you is created. Through you, your parents can see what your friends post, and your friends can see what your teacher posts. There are little to no circumstances in which any of these three parties would see each other all at once, and yet online, they are all always simultaneously there. Joshua Meyrowitz, upon returning from a trip abroad, would tell each of these three parties different stories based on who they were; “[his] parents, … heard about the safe and clean hotels in which [he] stayed and about how the trip had made [him] less of a picky eater. In contrast, [his] friends heard an account filled with danger, adventure, and a little romance. [His] professors heard about the ‘educational’ aspects of [his] trip” but on social media that luxury of telling everyone different stories at different times doesn’t exist (Meyrowitz, 1). In a society where we act different ways around different people in an attempt to fit in, the social media platform creates a new clique in which all of your other social groups are combined. Most people would say that this is a good thing, after all this allows you to be “you” when everywhere else you would be partially mirroring someone else. In most circumstances, you act similarly to the person whom you are speaking to, as a mechanism to be friendly and fit in, yet in this space you are simultaneously speaking to everyone and no one, so you are forced to act in a way that you would around everyone and no one, creating someone who is a culmination of all the social experiences that you’ve had until that point, or, in other words, a unique “you” would be displayed.
Earlier I said “most people” because there are circumstances, which are unfortunately becoming increasingly more common, in which this would not be the case. These cases being where the person, instead of showing their true self, shows a version of them created specifically for the purpose of showing others. Often times, this persona that they’ve made causes them to feel sad, as they feel there’s no one they can show their true self to, sometimes even believing that they do not have a true self and that they are hollow inside. This can drive them to self harm. When one of Ms. Hari’s old friends committed suicide she “instinctively went to her [friend’s] Facebook page, and so, it seemed, had everyone else who knew her, leaving messages of regret and love and loss. [She] found [herself] reading over her [friend’s] old status updates. She [saw that her friend] was clearly trying to communicate pain and isolation – but [they had] all missed it, leaving inane comments and thumbs up and [laughed] below every plea for help” and it was then she realized the difference between an online friend and a friend you spend waking days with, as online friends have no obligations (Hari). Yes you knew them but you didn’t really “know” them, and you won’t likely won’t be wearing mourning clothes for the rest of the week as a result of their death. It is in this way that you are desensitized to the lives of others.
As you can see, whether you are for or against social media, it has its pros and cons, just like everything else. Whether one person likes it or not depends on their moralities and preferences, which tells them how to value a real life relationship in comparison to an online relationship of equal gravity. One way or another, with this new digital world, we get connected, and that connection is both good and bad, whether it’s making new ones, maintaining old ones, or the ones that desensitise us from worldly things. As Mr. Roff said, “we’re constantly being told that there is no going back, that social media is here to stay; going forward it will be part of citizenship and consumerism to have an online presence. But running parallel to that is the idea that these technologies aren’t healthy for us” and we’ll just have to decide for ourselves how we choose to interact with ourselves and each other in this still developing world (Roff).
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