I’ve read a couple of articles recently about whether the amount of time we spend online is damaging to us as individuals and a society (Technology is great, but are we forgetting to live? and Online networking ‘harms health’). It’s something that has been crossing my mind a fair bit recently so it’s with interest that I read these, and other similar, articles.
My thoughts are still pretty unorganised but my general feeling has remained pretty much unchanged throughout the years I have been an Internet user; anything in life can become unbalanced and online / offline living is no different.
I think if a person were to be carrying out all interactions online all the time, even when they could make face-to-face or other contact, then the balance has gone and damage to relationships and health are possible, even likely.
However, when used as a means of enriching existing contact / relationships etc then social media really can make a difference to the quality and quantity of communication and knowledge available. Especially in people or groups where more traditional contact might be difficult (rural communities, people with disabilities, those living abroad or far away from family and friends).
I’ve found I have more contact with family abroad and have made contact with more local family and friends again through social networking sites. However, if this contact remained only online I would see it as of no more ‘social’ value to me than having their address / phone number in a book somewhere. I might be more aware of them than the address book but there is no more social value to me. Moving from online to offline contact provides that value.
Different channels of communication or contact are more suited in different circumstances – my 90-something grandad hasn’t been disowned because he isn’t online (or ever likely to be) but rather a face-to-face visit or telephone call suits us both better. However, my friend in Australia (who I actually met on ICQ) is mainly communicated with via social networking sites and email and occasional postal packages of compilation cds. I keep in touch with my husband with occasional online messages but wouldn’t dream of communicating with him this way if we were both at home together!
Balance, and purpose then.
For me online communication / social networks / media should be seen and used as an extra channel through which contact can be made and not a replacement for existing means.