Previously mentioned in this article series, I outlined how online personas and a lack of face-to-face interaction make interactive experiences online more shallow and incomplete. Face-to-face interactions, which are inherently more complex and personal because they use more of the senses are not as evident in online community conversation when they remain in isolation. This article tries to address to inadequacies and failure of online community interaction.
The first step is to realize the difference between a supportive and non-supportive group. As I said in the first part of this article series, social media has made it possible for the global village to electronically communicate with anyone. However, it does not matter if there is only ever one point of discussion, as evident by online fan pages.
One of my hobbies is that I paint miniature models and am part of nearly a dozen related online social groups. While it is great to see the progress pictures and advice given to people to improve their painting and playing ability most of us know very little about each other. The entire basis of our relationships, some of which span more than a decade, don’t venture past a familiar paint scheme and a name on a screen. This is in large part because nothing outside of that hobby has a place on that Web page. This is the sad and unfortunate reality of most online groups. If the point of discussion isn’t what the group was created for, at best it will be ignored and at worst you’ll likely be removed from the group. Moreover, these online communities have taken on a greater and greater role in our lives as being our primary channel of social contact. These are people that we share ideas and likes with. Not surprisingly, we feel a measure of safety and relief by taking part with them online
But does it mean anything? Most of the time, not really. This is because, by their nature, online communities are hyper focused on a particular interest or issue. Even support communities fall into this trap, as once you no longer require support, or are not supporting someone else, there’s no longer a place for you. The central idea of this focused online communities revolves around support and recovery and once you aren’t a part of that cycle, you aren’t part of that community.
So then where to do we go from here?
To some degree we are stuck – caught between a rock and a hard place. Social Media has permanently altered the way in which people interact. Turning our backs on it isn’t a feasible or realistic option. The main challenge and issue facing millions is that we may have gone too deep down the rabbit hole. If we are not careful, we may not be able to get out and end up going deeper down a hole that producing diminishing returns.
Recently, Recode reported here that Facebook lost 2.8 million users in the U.S. under 25 years old in 2018. The main reason for the larger than expected drop is that young people prefer social networks like Instagram and Snapchat because they want to share images rather than communicate online and have everything they write saved forever. The younger generation also wants live experiences, not things because experiences make them happier and are more valuable. Interaction and conversation is an implicit part of a shared experience.
So, What Comes Next
There really is only one solution to this problem. Go outside and meet people.
It has never been easier to do this because geek culture that started a generation ago in basements and online forums is now mainstream and cool today.
The geekery and memes that a generation ago set people aside as social outcasts have become multi-billion dollar industries in their own right. There are opportunities to meet people through all kinds of hobbies and activities, even meet the friends you have made online in person to get a more complete picture of their life and story. The key difference in meeting someone in person versus a conversation online is one of nuance and a deeper, broader understanding of the person.
Now, more than ever we live in a world where true conversation and understanding is possible. Online communities are a great place to express your views since it’s the platform with the most active listeners. Nevertheless, it’s also a terrible place for discussion because everyone has the ability to express their view and preach. We need face-to-face interactions in our lives. It’s the basis for the co-operative communication that underpins everything else. The sub-cultures that have become mainstream started and grew as a result of the close-knit communities established by this kind of contact. They provided refuge and acceptance and growth to their members and that level of connection is what has been lost, that we can now take steps to recover.