Okay, maybe there is not an official disorder called “Instant Communication Disorder,” but there might as well be. Have you checked if anyone’s liked your Facebook status in the past two minutes? Have you sent a tweet in the last three minutes? Have you pinned your latest recipe yet? Is your instant messaging account always logged in? If you’re still using that antiquated system called email, do you waste hours sorting emails when you could be accomplishing more productive tasks, or heaven forbid, speaking to people directly?
Welcome to the 21st century and the culture of instantaneous response. Rapid advances in technology and associated platforms have given rise to instant communication. It is now possible to be in contact with anyone, anywhere, anytime, and at an instant. And the best part is that so many of these mediums are free, if you don’t count the cost of your internet connection or device. With the right tools, you can even see the person as you instantly communicate with them. The explosion of mobile devices, driven primarily by the iPhone, has only exacerbated this new behavioral culture and driven our need for instantaneous responses to an all new level.
With the rise of cheaper, consumer-level technology that can allows us to instantly communicate with each other, are our collective brains being re-wired for instantaneous responses from those we communicate with? And to extend this further, do people out there actually think that liking a status update or sending a random tweet counts as human communication?
The final scene of “The Social Network” has the fictional Mark Zuckerberg sending a Facebook friend request to his ex-girlfriend and then continuing to refresh the page to see if she accepted. This scene perfectly encapsulates the new instantaneous response culture in which we find ourselves today. In the good old days in this scenario, we either would have picked up the phone or moved on. Today, we can send out friend requests, instant messages and tweets, and the other person can either respond kindly or totally ignore us. Either way, the communication, although instant, is neither substantive nor definitive. This lack of substance in our communication has ultimately led us to the ultimate irony: despite having the tools to communicate better than ever before in history, we are more cut off from having substantial connections with each other than ever before. And worse, some of us are addicted to our devices and social media platforms to the point that it can interfere with normal human interaction.
The advantage of instant communication is that it allows people to stay in contact with more people they know more of the time, despite the distance. The disadvantage of instant communication is that it is highly addictive and breeds superficial connections. As our society adjusts to this technology, and we are only at the beginning of this cycle, one can only hope that we don’t let it consume our lives. I don’t necessarily have any answers to address these issues other than to suggest that it can be good for your mental health to look up from your device every now and then and spend some quality time in the real world around you.
Are you a fan of instant communication as a result of social media?