Connected isolation?

How is it that social media allows us to be hyper connected yet we can still feel so much individual isolation?

I found myself wondering this ahead of the schools and academies show sat having something to eat on my own, while tweeting and otherwise engaging with individuals from all over the world via social media.     Isnt connection a key feature of social media in allowing us to have large “friends” groups which we can access even when geographically apart?    Shouldn’t I therefore have felt connected rather than isolated as I sat there?

A broadcast medium

One possible reason for my feeling of isolation may be the fact that todays social media is very much a broadcast medium.   We post outwards on twitter, we post outwards of Facebook, on TikTok and on other social media platforms.  They are no longer a simple extension of our “in-real life” connections, our friends and our families.   We hope that someone will reply and engage with what we have posted, or at least will provide a like, however this is a hope rather than an expectation.   So maybe the isolation therefore relates to the fact that my social media engagement amounts to throwing out posts and updates in much the same way a message in a bottle is cast into the sea in the hope that someone may read it.    It isn’t the two way conversation and engagement, the “social” experience which it pretends to be.

The human animal

This brings us nicely to another possible explanation being how we as humans have been conditioned through centuries of evolution to behave and respond.   We are used to smallish social groups rather than the 1000’s of followers we may achieve on social media.    Could it be that the we don’t have the same connection online with the 1000s we send our posts out towards, at least not to the same extent we might have a connection with the stranger we bump into and have a drink with in the pub? I will admit to having a conversation earlier in the day with a stranger in a busy pub and that this was engaging and enjoyable, and made me feel connected.

We are used to the social experience of face to face interactions, of getting verbal, facial and other non-verbal ques in our interactions with people.     We have a physiological response to the presence and interaction with those we know and like, while we have a different physiological response with those we don’t get on with.    Am not sure, however I suspect there may equally be a physiological response when interacting with people online however I suspect in some ways it may be a lesser response although I will also acknowledge in some cases the response may be greater or even extreme, spurred on by the safety of being a keyboard warrior distanced from any physical risk which could arise through face to face arguments.   I would suggest though, if we take the extreme cases out of the equation the average physiological response to online interactions is less than that for face to face interactions.  And so it may be that the online interactions feel a little numb when compared with face to face interactions.

Conclusion: An illusion of connection but not a very good one

The above is simply a little musing.   I have made some great connections with some great people via social media so as a vehicle towards face to face connections it is invaluable.    But does the supposed “social” nature of social media, the 1000s of online connections, make us think we are more connected than we end up feeling?    And if so, does the difference between how connected we think we are versus how connected we feel lead to a greater feeling of isolation?   Is the feeling of isolation a response or a result of this disparity?

If I was to draw any sort of conclusion I think it would be this;   For me, I am happiest when engaged in conversation in person even where with strangers.   Social media presents an illusion of connection and not a very good one, but this illusion can impact on us.    I think that is why I felt isolated as I sat there.   The solution, to stop engaging in social media in hope of a connection and to spark up a conversation with someone, to do what we as humans have been doing for centuries and engage with a fellow human being in a face to face conversation where I can actually feel properly connected.

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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