Let's face it …we are living with a paradox. On one hand all our social, professional and even emotional interactions are largely through the Apps and social media platforms attached conveniently to our smart phones and on the other hand we often plan and sometimes even crave for a digital/social media detox.
While technology has made communication much faster and so very convenient it has undeniably marred the quality of interpersonal relationships. Rita Chawla a sociologist based in New Delhi agrees. "Technology definitely commands an ace when it comes to transmitting information and updates in real time. However, human emotions and moods are complex and myriad. It is impossible to fully convey the exact shades of emotion attached to sentences and words through WhatsApp or Facebook, no matter the gamut of emotions at the disposal of these virtual platforms. Even elaborate emails and phone conversations fall short of physical meetings," opines Chawla and adds, "Since people today heavily rely on technology to stay connected (in place of in person meetings) misunderstandings between people are rampant and inevitable."
Elaborating on the flip side of technology she reveals, "Well interpersonal relationships are becoming more and more transactional these days and it is not the fault of people. It is truly an outcome of this rather pervasive and overpowering presence of technology."
Explaining her statements, Chawla says, "It is important to recognize that people today (thanks to smart phones and social media) largely club their social interactions with their daily routines whilst they are working, commuting or even undertaking some leisure activity. In such a scenario (largely text and voice message exchanges) it is virtually impossible to have truly meaningful conversations that harbor on thoughts, emotions and experiences. Exchanges pertaining to daily activities, business transactions and even observations/ comments on social and political developments etc however can be appropriately conveyed through this mode. Now mankind is a creature of habit. With the advent and proliferation of technology, we as a human race have largely got conditioned to engaging in only this kind of communication."
Given this backdrop of understanding it perhaps makes sense why people routinely desire and even genuinely need a technology detox. After all communications aided by technology are largely just information and we often experience an information overload. The problem does not only lie with the limitations of technology in terms of conveying real human sentiments. Unfortunately a teeming number of people have no etiquette in handling communication via Apps and social media.
Since people today heavily rely on technology to stay connected (in place of in person meetings) misunderstandings between people are rampant and inevitable"So many of my patients complain about how not getting a reply to an important message for hours or even days (after the read notification appears) makes them anxious, stressed and sometimes even depressed," says Raina Bhattacharya a psychological counseller based in Guwahati. "Infact there have been extreme cases encountered by clinical psychiatrists where patients have even committed suicide after being unceremoniously blocked by a loved one on social media," she reveals.
While not replying to important messages (from close friends and family) and whimsical blocking (merely because there might have been a few differences in opinions or misunderstandings) may sound perfectly trivial and justified it actually has grave repercussions on people who are dealing with mental health issues and sensitive people. "Sometimes even people who are sound and stable emotionally become unsettled when they are at the receiving end of such callous behaviour," says Chawla.
The obvious argument in defense of people who lack social media etiquette is that they simply are busy and have no time. "Well people make time for things they want and value and replying to messages on social media is not an exception. While there is absolutely no need to reply to messages from strangers and even acquaintances (unless the latter sends a relevant or urgent query) it is important to respond to messages of friends and family, especially if that friend or family member lives alone. It does not take more than two minutes to type a response and that very response might sometimes be the sole uplifting factor for your friend or relative," says Bhattacharya.
"If the message gets delivered while one is busy there is no good reason to not respond to it when he/she gets free. Unfortunately this too doesn't happen in many cases," points Bhattacharya. She goes on to state that a large number of senior citizens especially find themselves at the receiving end of callous social media etiquette. "Many retired elderly people who come to me for counseling actually tell me that they wait the entire day for their children, nieces/nephews and grandchildren to reply to their messages but sadly many a time the messages go unanswered," Bhattacharya rues.
Last but definitely not the least let us not overlook the fact that today social media particularly Facebook and Twitter have unfortunately also become grounds for settling scores. "It is appalling and frankly even blasphemous to see the kind of language that some people resort to while arguing with others on social media," says Bhattacharya. "Surprisingly and interestingly often the people who unleash a barrage of expletives on social media are much meeker and subdued in their real life interactions. Also I have experienced that they are completely oblivious to the image that they are creating about themselves through their brazen comments," she observes.
Chawla attributes all of this to the fact that there is no or very little awareness atleast in our country (and many others) that there is something called social media etiquette. "It is important to address this subject for starters. After all going forward social media is likely to define the entire dynamics of human interaction. And do we not desire human interactions to become more empathetic, real and meaningful?" she sums.