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Social Networking or Networking Socially?

With the advent of the internet in the 1990s, the way us humans live our lives and interact with each other has changed drastically. Now our smartphones and other technical gadgets literally provide us with information about almost anything that we’d like. Sitting on the western hemisphere, I can be Face-timing/Skyping my cousin across the globe. Someone back in the 1980s probably couldn’t even fathom a mobile device in their hands that lets them send video to a next door neighbor. Moreover, tasks that would take days or weeks back then, now take only matter of seconds. The internet has truly revolutionized the way we think, act, and communicate with each other and our surroundings. However, with the great advancements of the internet and its technologies, the question arises: have we lost our ability to genuinely communicate with each other in person? Why are we so comfortable talking to strangers from behind the screen, but in person, some “awkward” sensation holds us back from sparking up a little conversation?  It is crucial to balance our online and offline lives, and understanding how to use them both to our advantage.

When you step in an elevator, you’ll notice how everyone (maybe even you) whips out their devices to avoid the awkward eye contact from the person standing across from them. Why are we so uncomfortable around people we don’t know, even though we may see them every day in our work and/or school environments? To understand this question, we must first chip away the “cushion” our laptops and smart phones give us when interacting with people we haven’t seen in person. When interacting with others online, we develop and portray a side of us that we want the person on the other end to see. We may do this by showing or saying things that appeal to the other person, and who knows, the other person may be doing that as well. These “false identities” give us an ephemeral sense of self esteem when presenting ourselves; however, the fact of the matter, is that in reality we may behave and/or think differently than we do online. Even if it’s for a couple of seconds in the elevator, or a 15 minute bus ride, there is a fear of social awkwardness which seems to come from over usage of social networking.

This is not to say social networking should totally be dismissed, but too much of anything has its downfalls right?  Back before the invention and popularization of social media, the only way you would interact with people was in person or on the phone. Now that there are multiple ways of communicating with people online, the social values of meeting and greeting each other are slowly diminishing. How many times have you been to a gathering of friends and there are moments where everyone’s attention is on their phones? Even if it doesn’t happen all the time, this habit many of us have takes the life out of the social gatherings.  If we’re addicted to constantly checking our “likes” and notifications every 5 minutes, we’re undermining the primary purpose of a social gathering: to genuinely interact with our fellow human beings. Social interaction helps develop our skills that are really needed in the real world in areas like job interviews, professional presentations, speeches, etc. If we resort to the internet as our primary source of communication, we will only put ourselves at a disadvantage and grow into this feel of social awkwardness around strangers.

To dismiss the internet and social media as a negative aspect of life, we would only be moving backwards. The goal here is to focus on balancing both social interaction and social media, with the former being our primary and most important staple of communication. Why? Because before the internet, social interaction was the only tool mankind had to communicate and progress in many different aspects of life. Since the dawn of the internet and social media, many of us have neglected that aspect of life which used to be so vital. Social media must be treated as an extension of our arms, where we can take advantage and reach out to the world to develop ourselves as professional individuals, while retaining important personal skills as well. This development can be in any form, from business ventures, educational matters, and even spiritual guidance. Sure, there is nothing wrong with sharing our personal lives, but we must keep in mind that we ought to have a sense of privacy about what is being posted, especially when our colleagues in the professional world may have access to it. When social media is used as a means to inform and educate, it becomes a beautiful thing. Although this is an age of mass information in the palm of our hands, ignorance is bliss. Sharing knowledge via social media helps humanity as a whole to gain understanding of the previously unknown. In Imam Ali’s (A.S.) own words, “There is no greater poverty than ignorance…”, and when used properly, social media is a great tool to combat ignorance.

Understanding the importance of face-to-face communication balanced with proper use of social media can lead mankind to great heights. To dismiss one or the other as not equally important as the other is simply underestimating true the power of both of them. However, many of us don’t understand the benefits and drawbacks of social media as a whole. To get a brief overview, click here to see a list of how social media can both, benefit and harm you. As humans we can do a much better job of using our technological resources and also of our natural communicating abilities.

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