Before we had the Internet, the closest form of written communication we had were handwritten letters posted to family, friends and pen pals. Then there are the regular phone calls, family reunion meet-ups, parties, events etc.
As a whole, these offline social interactions had more depth than what we are experiencing online today because we could at least hear the tone of voice through phone calls or read the body language and facial expression of the new person we have just met at the party.
Nowadays we prefer using emails, instant messaging (IM) and social networking sites. Make no mistake, I’m not denouncing these innovations that came about with the Internet. They are revolutionary tools that allow us to connect like never before.
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It’s hard to believe that we are now able to make contact with a stranger from the other side of the world in a matter of seconds. Work processes and collaborations can never be easier or smoother without the existence of these networks.
Benefits aside though, it seems that the unprecedented accessibility that has been granted to us may have now resulted in our overdependence to using the online amenities to carry out our social biddings.
Complement Vs. Replacement
It seems that there are two types of people; one who complement their offline social life with their online one, and the rest who pretty much replace their offline social life with the online one. You’d probably guess that it’s healthier to be the former than the latter, since most of us would say that social interaction should not only consist of what is being said, but also how it is being said.
Emoting with Icons
To make up for the lack of visual cues from text-based conversations, emoticons eventually came to be. Even then, we all know emoticons are simply not enough sometimes! There is far too wide a variety of emotions to capsulate them into emoticons like :) or :(.
The tone of voice we hear over the phone is a much better indicator of emotions than these two-dimensional visual cues. When dealing with face-to-face interactions, there’s the entire package of body language, facial expression and voice to take into consideration.
Offline social interactions can hardly replace online ones. But how do we complement the former with the latter?
Strengthening Our Offline Social Life Online
Although interacting with others offline gives us an experience that no other mediums could, an online social life also offers something which offline life does not. Social networking sites like Facebook offer users a window to a world of ideas, cultural differences and perspectives that we would otherwise not easily have access to in real-life.
We get to hear about the latest news (or gossips) faster than before, even real-time, as the events unfold. This information can translate to conversational topics when we interact with others offline, thereby deepening the exchange we have with them.
Going online with social networking sites and IMs also opens us to new friendships that could not be forged otherwise due to geographical and cultural barriers.
Recommended reading: 10 Ideas to Simplify Your Online Life
The allure of Socializing Online
One reason for the reliance on online social communications is that there’s simply little or no commitment to the relationships made online. We can simply strike an online conversation with anyone, any time and end the relationship there and then, without carrying expectations to contact each other again. We don’t actually have to fix a time and location to meet up with the other party.
The flexibility of being able to go online even during the wee hours of the night to socialize is definitely a draw for many of us who are often strapped for time. We can even be who we want to be – such convenience is a valuable gift to many people who don’t mind settling for such relatively superficial social interactions to satisfy their social needs.
Achieving Balance between Both Worlds
However, the more time we spend socializing online, the less time we have to socialize offline. Also, once we settle into the comfort zone that is the online world, it will be harder for us to get out and interact with people in the real world.
The key is not to let online interactions replace interactions offline.
It’s easy to fall into such a trap when it’s so much more convenient to just keep in touch online. This is good practice so long as we stay mindful of the pitfalls. One way to achieve a balance between having an offline social life, and an online one, is to use the former to know new friends and the latter to develop deep relationships.
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Designating a specific time where we’ll go online to socialize will also help. This will not only prevent us from aimlessly chatting or surfing on Facebook, it will also keep us disciplined enough to focus on the tasks at hand while we’re at the screen.
Extending our offline social network to online activities like chatting and social networking sites is also a good way to attain balance. In essence, we are maintaining existing offline relationships so that they remain strong or even grow stronger the next time we see them.
Above all, there’s a need to recognize that quality social interaction exists in the offline realm rather than when we’re online. The only way to see that is to actually spend offline time with friends instead of hiding behind a screen all the time.
Once we dedicate some time each week to hang out with our buddies, we’ll begin to re-experience the bonds that we’ve been missing out. That’s when we’ll naturally inch towards a healthy balance between the two worlds and appreciate that our online social life need not be a liability, but a potential boon to our overall social life.