We’ve got our heads buried in an exciting new world
I recently attended a VIP media launch for an Aussie singer. This in itself is news as I have two children under the age of two, so going out is rare. But the real surprise was how much the dancefloor had changed.
It wasn’t smaller or lit like Saturday Night Fever (although that would have been cool). It just wasn’t heaving.
Normally the music would be blamed for a subdued crowd. But I think the real problem was a new one. You see, it’s particularly hard to dance while watching an artist through your iPhone, while tweeting, Instagramming, uploading snaps to Facebook or writing a blog post.
When I was out seeing bands about six years ago, the only obstacle to dancing was eyeing off the lead singer as if you were the only two people there, locked in a passionate duet.
I felt sad as I watched the sea of shining screens reflecting blue in their owner’s faces. Not because I am above them. Quite the opposite.
In fact I am so tragic I was having longer conversations with Dan Hanks on Twitter than with my own husband. My excuse: the gig was too loud to talk, but not to type or share pics.
Even more tragically, my face was so buried in my iPhone for most of the gig, so I only noticed all the kindred zombies as I walked out.
What are we doing? Real life is SO much better than online – isn’t it?
That’s a hard question to answer if your real life has started to merge with your virtual one. Suddenly real life interactions are competing for attention with the unreal ones that stream constantly before your eyes.
To me Twitter is like a writhing party going 24 hours a day. You walk in, grab a drink, observe the conversations going on in the room and then jump in when you have something relevant to add. It is instantly gratifying if what you say is interesting enough for others to respond to and a little confronting when it’s not.
It is our zeitgeist, giving a stimulating snapshot of the mood of society in our time.
It is also a unique leveller as your acceptance and popularity is based on what you write in 140 characters, not whether you are famous. In fact some famous people have had their boring uptightness revealed by Twitter.
There really is no place for holier-than-thou behaviour. Followers deserve respect and even famous people will lose nobodies and limit their social media potential if they don’t play nice.
I digress. I was meant to be bemoaning the lack of real interaction social media has left us with and instead I’ve started to rave about how fun it is.
Here lies the rub. I suppose the real question is whether social media is negating our ability to connect face-to-face, or if it enhances it.
I know that my not-so-healthy addiction has had detrimental affects on my real life relationships. For example I have been known to be feeding my 14-month-old with one hand and tweeting with the other. It’s not too big a leap to say that yes, social media does do some damage to face-to-face relationships.
So why do we do it? I think it is so gratifying and instant. You know those nights when you really need to ring a friend but it’s past 8:30 so you know you shouldn’t? Well, Twitter is awake, available and already talking.
You know that journo or celeb you’ve always wanted to know or just tell them how you feel about them? They are usually there and you can tweet them your praise - or the opposite if it’s Tom Cruise. You know that contact you need to make to get your dream job? They might be there and there’ll be nothing lost in saying “g’day”.
Maybe the sad thing is not that face-to-face interactions are being replaced by online ones, but that the face-to-face ones have declined in our society since sometime around the early ‘80s.
Unwittingly we are craving the comfort of another voice, a friend, a hug or a smile. That deep need to know we are not alone, obviously has never left us even though our society has fragmented and became so unfriendly and threatening even a smile is cause for alarm.
When you think about the distance we have put between each other in real life, is it any wonder a replacement, albeit a slightly less rich one, has taken off like wild fire?
So we may end up with thumb injuries, poor vision and single but at least we are connecting. After all, it is not as if we are talking with robots - there are real people on the other side of the blue glow.
Who knows, maybe social media will be the beginning of a new age of community that will augment our real life relationships rather than damage them. Well, that’s what I’m telling myself as I sit here bleary-eyed, partied-out but deliriously high from the constant human contact I hold in the palm of my hand.
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