Online communication is overtaking face-to-face chats and that may be a good thing

Online communication is overtaking face-to-face chats and that may be a good thing

Large part of discourse that has centred around critiquing technology has been insistent on one common theme: the death of face to face conversations that are fast and firmly being replaced by digital modes if communication- Skype, Whats App, emails, FaceTime and Facebook etc. Recently a picture surfaced of a café/pub in social media: scrawled on that hipster blackboard was an admonition: ‘We don’t have Wi-Fi, talk to each other’. Besides ignoring the obvious – that most people now move around with net access – it also played on the now familiar and clichéd theme of favouring ‘real (as in face to face)’ conversations over ‘virtual’ ones. The message was applauded by many, ironically on social media.

The complaints are familiar- this generation doesn’t go out and make friends anymore, that they don’t know their neighbours, that they sit in social settings and flip out their phone, they stand in corner of parties and take calls from distant friends etc. This random valorisation of real chats sans technology doesn’t make sense for several reasons. Firstly there is no premium placed on quality of the interactions – some how forced conversations with nosey neighbourhood aunties on say one’s marriage plans are preferred over having a meaningful conversation via Skype with a friend across oceans. Secondly, it celebrates the extroverts, people who strive to be the life of the party rather than the quieter types who would rather socialise in the comfort of their pyjamas at their own pace, if not through verbal communication then through written.

Most such discourse stems from nostalgia about pre Internet times. When people threw parties and called on neighbours and went to clubs. However a large number of these interactions were dictated by geographical necessity and not necessarily a meeting of minds. Also most of these interactions were confined to one’s close network of class, profession and even caste. It is thus no surprise that most revolutionary ideas and intellectual discourse emerged from places where these barriers and forced limitations were broken – cafes in old towns or university lecture halls. The modern day Internet is an equivalent of this café, only global – everyone is invited to share and while there is a lot of noise – there is space for genuinely invested.

Moreover the olden times came with their own modes of communication, which if seen without the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia, were tedious. It took weeks for letters to get delivered, trunk calls took ages to get through, and if one had to be urgent through telegraph- one also had to be very brief. And when today’s generation is blessed with excellent modes of communication, why should they let distances hinder them in keeping alive their friendships, their relationships and while they are at it, also contribute their two bit to the raging contemporary debates? Why should anyone confine their conversations to superficial chats with someone close by when they can forge something more meaningful across the globe?

Most importantly online modes of communication have gives us a chance to opt out. To disengage with talk that is patronising, judgemental, racist, sexist or plain boring and yet not feel lonely. Internet has given freedom to individuals who might not prescribe to the conventionality of their societies, their immediate physical surroundings and seek companionship elsewhere in a more accepting and intelligent space. This is not to argue that Internet is some paragon of safe space, in fact the opposite. Anonymity accorded through online personas, and little legal guidelines and protection have more often than not brought out the worst of humanity. Internet trolls are vicious, rabid beasts doling out violent threats in filthy language. Online bullying is the worst. Even more intimate FaceBook and Whats App groups have become primary mode of rumour mongering and fake news. And still, in some degree, there is the freedom to opt out, to block and un-follow and un-friend and yet not severely limit ones options.

Online modes of communication have given us freedom of choice: choice in who we interact with and who we shut out; choice to be a part of conversation in real life or online; choice to leave early from an annoying get together to come home and Skype with a friend and not feel lonely. Most importantly online modes of communication have given the voice to the shy, the introverts, the socially awkward, the ones who prefer to type rather than talk, the insomniacs who are most eloquent in wee hours of morning, the thinkers who prefer monologues, the ones who hate dressing up and going out but still prefer company, the ones who want to travel but stay in touch, the ones who move too frequently for physical rootedness but see no reason why they should lose touch with their soul mates scattered across globe.

So, don’t let a café admonish you! There are no compulsions about random chit chats with strangers. You don’t have to hang around with people who bore you just because they live across the street. Feel free to talk to whoever you want. Or not talk at all. Chose your pace and your mode of communication. If group calls with people in different time zones is your poison, then so be it. Get comfortable on your couch, make yourself tea first preferably, and carry on.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Swati Saxena

Swati Saxena is a researcher at a non-profit organisation. She has a PhD in Public Health and Policy from University of London and MPhil in Development Studies from University of Oxford. She tweets at @SwatiSaxena1231

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