Cell phones. Social media. Texting. Emails. In today's society, it is obvious that we are wired to each other and are becoming more so with each passing day.
According to a recent study, evidence has found that the number of people spending time on their social networking sites, such as Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn has increased by approximately 73% in the past year. In February, it was reported that social media usage exceeded emailing for the first time.
For young children in this new era who have been born into the digital age, the older non-digital savvy "immigrants" to online life see technology as a blessing that assists people in remaining in touch with people through a quick and effortless means. Unfortunately, it can also encourage virtual relationships that can extend to intimacy - digital intimacy without any physical glances.
Sure, perhaps you and the 500 Facebook "friends" you have shared all the details of your lives, but how often do you see these individuals? Have you hugged them, had coffee with them, even met them outside of the digital world? More importantly, does any of the physical interaction even matter?
According to a small scientific study conducted by the Psychology Department of UCLA, social networks can devalue in-person relationships. The question of whether in-person interaction with friends was asked of the 23 UCLA students in the study when they continued their use of MySpace. Based on the research, Professor Greenfield indicated that there were more relationships in the students' lives, but they were more superficial. Empathy and other human emotions were reduced because there was less face-to-face interaction.
Many purport that the digital relationships may be less 'rich' than face-to-face interaction, but it is difficult to argue that the communication is less intimate. After all, how is a Shakespearean love sonnet more intimate because it is written on paper, as compared to a digital email?
Fair enough, but are people communicating with idiotic messages such as 'long 2 c u' as intimate as the famous actresses comebacks to their suitors? For example, a short text has nothing on Bette Davis' snappy line where she would kiss you, but she just washed her hair; or Lauren Bacall not waiting for Bogart to make the first move in the film To Have and Have Not. She merely shimmied up to him and whispered, 'if you want me, just whistle.' Is there any way an online interaction could match these infamous lines?
On the other hand, it can be simple to hide behind an electronic identity using social networking sites. According to experts, people will define themselves using online social profiles. Regarding the area of peer relations, she was concerned how the meaning of 'friend' had altered so that real friends were not to be recognized as such. The New Yorker so adequately stated, on the internet, nobody knows you are a dog!
According to a UCLA psychology graduate and co-author of the UCLA study, the online conversations can become an element in the image-crafting strategy. It’s stated that people do not connect with 'friends' for the sake of the exchange when online, but will interact with 'friends' as a type of performance as if they were acting before an audience on the social media network.
While online conversations can have benefits, Smith has noted that digital communication can be archival allowing for less confusion instead of more. He states that too much or too little confusion can be an issue, and it is important how one uses the media to determine the effectiveness of the conversation.
Virtual intimacy has even taken on a new meaning and can extend to even sexual relationships. Virtual reality has skewed the boundaries between the real and not so real, and there’s a growing number of bizarre stories often originating in Japan about it VR replacing real intimacy. This story about Tokyo men getting foot massages in VR from what seem to be female anime characters, but in reality are other men a very notable one. Adult VR comparisons show a rise in popularity and that similar things could be coming our way soon.