Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The tug of war between on-line and real-life communication

It’s a Saturday afternoon. As has been the norm recently for those bitten by the political bug, the post-noon hours are reserved for political rallies and launches as the race for political office heats up.

I am sitting in the back of a pickup with a couple of friends listening attentively to the political rhetoric when she passes in front, gives me an almost clandestine wink and moves on.

“Who’s she?” I ask myself and for the rest of the day I still cannot find the answer. At least, not until the next day when I log onto the social network, Facebook, and see the profile picture next to her post.

Sounds familiar? Well, maybe it is because it has happened to you too.

Meeting an online friend for the first time in person and not recognising them from the onset. Or if you do, there is hardly anything to share besides an obligatory “hi!”

Such has been the influence of smart phones and social media that it has almost become impossible to have a meaningful conversation (the old traditional way) with people you know, let alone a stranger.

Public transport, bars, funerals, weddings and other social gatherings have been some of the few places where it has been easy to strike a conversation with a complete stranger. Not anymore.

Sticking headsets into your ears, with eyes glued to your mobile screen and completely ignoring everyone around has almost become a socially accepted practice. As with the girl I hardly recognised at the political rally, we seem to be more comfortable confiding in total strangers on the other end of our gadgets than with those around us. Save for the act of eating, our lips hardly have much movement to make.

The communication baton has, perhaps unconsciously, been passed onto our fingers. Generally Batswana have never been the introverted type.

We have always have something to talk about. In the rare absence of anything to say, the weather has always provided an alternative.
Now even a simple dumela or thank you is hard to come out because somebody is too busy having another conversation with a stranger on their gadget.

“This is true of many other countries as well,” says Kate Fox in her article ‘The more the English change the more we stay the same’ (The Telegraph), “but Facebook, Twitter and forums such as Mumsnet have been a particular godsend for the socially awkward …, who are much more open, much less privacy-obsessed, much less inhibited when chatting online than we are in ‘real life’, as social media users call the offline world.”

She says that cyberspace is a special social microclimate where the normal rules of … cultural grammar are suspended (along with actual grammar) or even inverted. Talking to strangers, even about the details of one’s private life, she adds, is actively encouraged.
“That said,” she concludes, “the rise of social media has probably had a more significant effect on our social behavior than any other event or development of the past 10 years.”

We may not be as technologically advanced as the English but our social behaviour with regard to the use of communication technology and social media suggests we are not too far behind.

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