June 12, 2013, by Yvonne Teoh

Only an Illusory Comfort?

Other animals do not have it as easy as we do. To communicate a message (whether or not animals truly communicate is debatable, but that deviates from the objective of this post), they can only use their bodies and vocal cords, and they are completely reliant on other members of their species being able to see and/or hear them. As I sit in front of my computer typing out these words while listening to four birds outside my room making loud, cluck-like noises to one another (or to other loud, cluck-like noise-making birds not within my view), I cannot help but to think about how convenient communication has become for those of us who possess the technology that enables that, and how sometimes that convenience may replace the value of really knowing an individual.

After spending a semester here in the UK, I will be heading back home soon. Friends have been made along the way, and as negative as this may sound, the likelihood of meeting these friends again really is not that high. Then there are people that I have only got to know, so there is inadequate time to even be more acquainted. In a drama- or movie-like setting, this would probably be very unfortunate. This would be when scenes of friends saying the final goodbye, turning back to have one last look, hug, or hand-wave, can be fitted. I feel nothing of that. Maybe this just means that I am a cold, cold person who can detach myself from people very easily, but again, that deviates from the objective of this post. What I find myself thinking when I realise that these are friends I may not meet again, or that I do not have the time to get to know a particular person better, is this – “There is always Facebook”.

Somehow the existence of social networking has softened the blow of reality, which also is an evidence of my dependence on it in maintaining friendships across long distances. However, more often than not, “adding” a friend does not equal to keeping a friend, as proven by people having more than 1000 “friends” but only ever truly spoken to about one-tenth (or less) of that. In other words, social networking may have become, for me, an illusory comfort that I will continue to be able to communicate with these friends I got to know but may never meet again. I say illusory because there is always a possibility that some of these friends may become just one of the many friends in my friends list, but the knowledge that there is such a convenient way of staying in touch may be strong enough a comfort to dispel any unpleasant feelings that come with parting ways.

I have been using myself as a case in point as I do not wish to generalise, but perhaps it is worthwhile considering how the convenience of communication may have affected the quality of our relationships? Could we possibly be too dependent on such convenience that we take for granted the value of relationships, which may actually be manifested through the unpleasant emotions we feel with the realisation that a goodbye would most likely be a final one? Perhaps it is these unpleasant feelings that would drive us to make the effort to actually actively keep in contact with other people.  If that is the case, then perhaps the comfort provided by thoughts such as “There is always Facebook” only drifts us further away from the initial intention of staying in touch.

Bringing this into a psychological context, it may be important to understand how social networking is impacting our perception of relationships. No matter the research approach, from absolutely reductionist methods to questionnaire-based designs, to gain insight into the workings of the human mind that may or may not be influenced by the evolution in communication would be valuable knowledge.  Cyber-connectedness may be the answer for convenient communication, but ultimately, human relationships are more than just a tangled web of “friendship” links. To understand how our perception of relationships may or may not have changed could allow us to rethink our dependence on the Internet in our often half-hearted attempts to maintain connections with each other.

Lai Weijean
(Year 2 Student in BSc (Hons.) Psychology, UNMC)

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