I cannot help but think of the time when my grandmother went on her first air flight. Her overwhelming reflection, ‘Humans can now fly to places!’ is how technology has changed the world. It’s not only about travelling that is of marvel today but the fact that we can work from home and have all our interactions virtually.
This need for humans to strive for perfection and the urge for novelty has, indeed, brought us this far. While we may take pride in the benefits of technology, we also need to voice concerns regarding the salient effects of it on our well being.
Humans by nature are social animals. It’s in our DNA to seek contact with each other. But ever since the 1990s the definition of social contact went through its own transformation. Technology advancements have allowed us to talk to family and friends across thousands of miles completely free of cost. Distance does not make a difference any more. We have become a global village with access to everything that can be obtained if so desired. Nothing stops us, neither age, sex, religion, nor social decorum affects our desires for social contact.
With the pandemic, life has become even more virtual than before. In fact, virtual interaction has become the new normal. We can be at two places at the same time allowing a simulated existence with an ease that makes me wonder: are we taking more on our plates than what we can chew? In fact, are we essentially diverting the natural course of evolution? Are we redefining what it means to be human?
Even before the pandemic, social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest had changed human contact and relationships in ways that if one does not stop to take stock one can easily be blinded into a fake reality, dual existence, and misguided decisions.
Social psychologist Leon Festinger speaks of another phenomenon, namely, the natural urge of humans to compare themselves to the average.
In our fake world, our average gets tampered, thereby causing us to feel terrible that we do not belong to what is now considered the normal category. While all our friends are travelling to exotic locations, driving expensive cars, and eating ravishing foods we are left feeling miserable, envious, and small.
Such battering to our ego can lead to an eventual lack of esteem and insecurity. In the virtual world, it’s called a bug.
Recent studies have shown that chronic Facebook users tend to think that other people lead happier lives than their own, leading them to feel that life is less fair. Such misconceptions often play havoc, with real-life emotions.
In the times of the pandemic, the virtual bugs look a little different than fake travel photos.
The big virtual bugs are:
Clips and messages about COVID-19 that either puts you in a panic-anxious mode or makes you throw caution to the wind. This news is completely fake with unfounded research backing it. Fake news feeds on our own insecurities besides our exhibitionist and voyeuristic traits.
The opportunity to deceive and portray false emotions because in our virtual world emotions are all about smiley yellow icons. To feel an emotion and express it requires your real body. This allows us to empathise with each other. Real emotional expressions allow us to react and respond. When you see your friends’ tears rolling from their eyes, the sadness you will feel in your heart is very different than from a crying emoji. Abbreviations and emojis are never the same as a hug or a laugh.
Facebook stalking has made it harder to let go of past relationships. Comparing yourself to your ex’s relationships can be both frightening and obsessive. Over time the purpose of why humans seek interaction gets defeated, leaving us more alone and more vulnerable.
The risk of actual pathologies as a result of screen time. Studies reveal that the use of social networking sites is correlated with personality and brain disorders, such as the inability to have in-person conversations, a need for instant gratification, ADHD, and self-centred personalities, as well as addictive behaviours. Pathological internet use (caused or exacerbated by social networking use) is associated with feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and general distress.
Spine health is a big concern. Within a week of online classes, I needed to visit my doctor for back problems. I learned right away from my chiro practitioner that my posture needed to be adjusted, that the centre of my screen should always be at eye level, my arms at 90-degree angles and my feet flat on the ground, and that I would need to get up and move around at every hour.
Looking at the bigger picture, I learned why it’s important not to let the virtual dictate, because at the end of the day I am human and so are you. We are real and the screen is not. While technology makes the world more global we are becoming more insulated, self-centred, and destructive.
(Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, officiating principal and associate professor of psychology at
Carmel College for Women)