CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES: ARE WE ADDICTED?

We enter social media from a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Day and night. At home and at work. In a traffic jam or in the subway, in line to buy groceries or mail a package, at the hairdresser’s or in the barber’s chair. In essence, over just a few years a revolution in human interactions has taken place: today most of us get acquainted, conduct business, and meet and socialize with people on virtual platforms more frequently than in real life. Let’s take a look at what our new virtual life has brought us.

The sphere of emotion

 With the appearance of social media on the Internet, we all have acquired the ability to express our thoughts and feelings publicly, to write something on our own pages or to comment on someone else’s. It has become possible to replenish an exhausted emotional resource when we feel sad or lonely, or to give voice to a moment of anger without the risk of a punch in the mug. And we can always find someone to give us a pat on the back or help us hone our debating skills.                                 

Interest groups

Virtual life, with its animated discussions, shocking scandals, and frank confessions, can be gripping. A new type of star has emerged—the blogger capable of generating interesting content. As time goes by, interest groups and interaction formats take shape to satisfy any taste: YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter… You can read blogs, and write for others to read; you can take and post pictures of things that interest you, and find others interested in the same things; you can make a video showing people how to make sauerkraut or drive a stick-shift. In the meantime, new technologies are popping up like mushrooms, and mobile gadgets have made it possible to interact online for days at a time. Folks at every level have become engaged, and the snobbish “I don’t do social media” has been replaced by awkwardness if you don’t.                                 

A place for self-presentation... and deception

It’s become fashionable to talk about ourselves. But let’s not kid ourselves: our hidden needs are at the heart of this fashion. A thirst for social recognition makes us want to be seen as better than we see ourselves. So we don masks, create new personas. On social media, we can be a connoisseur of the arts or a confident professional, a successful entrepreneur or an inveterate traveler, a beefcake or a great beauty: who’ll know the truth? But some of the popular heroes of Instagram and Facebook have been unmasked. They had faked their resplendent lives: told tales of fabulous trips that they had actually taken only from their armchairs, showed pictures of themselves in gorgeous homes they didn’t own, cited books they hadn’t read…

A place to build a business

YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn have helped many aspiring entrepreneurs start up a business. Issues of attracting customers are successfully resolved in social media. Webake cakes, sell our pictures, put together a Webinar, apply makeup for customers—and photos and testimonials in social media do a great job of bringing in new orders, which assures one more important need—money. We also expand our circle of acquaintances, state our position, enter into partnerships or other business relationships, and try to find money for a start-up.                                 

A sense of closeness

Virtual interaction, especially on Skype, has succeeded in creating not only a sense of participation, but also of immediacy. During the pre-gadget era, time and distance separated people literally. But today, loved ones leaving on a lengthy assignment or business trip, or living on different continents, easily maintain contact through Short Message Service (SMS), photographs, correspondence by messenger apps, phone calls, chatting, and on Skype. We have the pleasant sensation that we’re not so far away.                                 

BUT. Virtual life is overshadowing real life.

Probably most of us have had occasion to witness a group of friends at the next table all look at their smartphones and raise their faces to take a joint selfie and immediately post it on Facebook. That selfie is a graphic manifestation of our addiction to gadgets and virtual reality. Compared to our boisterous phantom life, our reality seems dim, and even person-to-person interaction no longer seems so real. So then, there’s an existential question to ponder here: what is the essential difference between real and virtual interaction? The answer is in whether or not the exchange of living energy is drained by distance or impeded by the barrier of a screen.

We’re far from calling on people to reject social media. The Internet is an excellent tool for exploring the world. It encourages curiosity, communication skills, and personal development that can be developed through text information or video: written speech, the intellect, memory, education, a healthy lifestyle... Impressive numbers of professionals are on line, new information is appearing exponentially, and the answer to any question is literally at our fingertips. However, not only adults, but children, too, are at risk of addiction to the Internet and social media. And if we don’t want to lose our children, we have to provide them with an example of how to balance our real and virtual lives. One suggestion is that the family establish a regular day without gadgets—and it should be for everyone. Indeed, rather than take the gadgets away altogether, we must take advantage of our children’s hunger for our attention to listen to them and acknowledge the attraction of the virtual life, but draw them back to the real world by sharing its joys and pleasures with them…