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Social media: Have we forgotten the “real” world?

At a social media seminar I attended this week in Vancouver, one of the presenters said: “The real world is so key.” She was referring to live-blogging events. I had to laugh at the irony. We have to be reminded to participate in activities that occur beyond cyber-reality? How sad.

As a writer and communicator, I firmly acknowledge the value of the Internet and social media in connecting with others and sharing information. But if this activity ends up alienating and isolating us from the flesh-and-blood world, it’s ultimately substracting from, rather than adding to, our lives. Do we chat with a near-stranger online, or visit a real friend face-to-face in a cafe? Do we choose to email rather than phone someone? Are personal encounters diminishing, replaced by Tweets and cyber-dialogue?

I think of family trips we took when I was a child. While driving through spectacular scenery, from the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert in the U.S. to the orange-red canyons and mesas of Arizona, my mom had to repeatedly urge my sisters and I to look out the window and admire the view. We were often too engrossed in some card game or crossword puzzle in the back seat to even notice what was around us. Unwittingly, we were shutting out the world and our relationship to nature. (This was many decades before the term “nature deficit disorder” was coined.)

Social media can create the same real-life siloing. On the same night as the seminar, I attended a talk and reading by musician/author Sylvia Tyson at the Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt, BC. She read from her new novel Joyner’s Dream, which reinforces one family’s connection to music through multi-generations. In the Q&A afterwards, someone asked Tyson if she was on Facebook.

“I’m one of the original Luddites,” she replied. (That was a no.) Applause followed from at least one-quarter of the sold-out audience of several hundred. I assumed that those who clapped were honouring the value of person-to-person sharing, the kind of connection that Tyson created that night through her spoken word and recorded music.

I don’t advocate shunning the digital world. Let’s just keep it in perspective. To me, nothing beats the unadulterated, non-enhanced connection, in person, with people and nature. Once we’ve stopped valuing that relationship, and making time for it, we might as well become heartless cyborgs.

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August 6, 2011 at 10:49 am
1 comment »
  • August 8, 2011 at 11:23 amFrank McElroy

    My take on the SFU Social Media Boot Camp was more positive than I anticipated. I learned that for business, social media has some serious power. I did not learn anything else about it which I could call “a positive.” In my business, the practice of law, email, social media, are destructive forces. They create the impression of communication without the impressions of first-hand contact. There is nothing which can compare to looking into the face of someone. The handshake. The acknowledgment of humanity, even in the most disagreeable circumstances, creates a means of communication. Even a telephone call conveys voice and its emotion, something that e-mail and social media can’t do, unless you are James Joyce or William Faulkner. Twitter would close them out.

    In an increasingly impersonal world I am enjoying interacting with people. They are so interesting and accessible. Of course personal interaction costs heavily – you are out there, on the limb. Social media and email allow you to hide, to avoid risk. Please write me, with pen and paper, a stamp. It may take some time, but it’s so much more meaningful than @.com.

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