Ever since the internet and social media became prevalent in our daily lives, news outlets, politicians, psychologists and scientists have been dancing around whether technology makes life better or worse. They’re the kinds of questions a younger person such as myself has had to put up ever since the world got a Facebook account: if you are physically alone in a room, can you truly be connected with others through this tiny light-up brick that sends magic letters?
The short answer? Yes.
There are ups and downs with being constantly connected to the rest of the world, and you often hear about Facebook or YouTube abusing their user database to not only their own benefit, but for political gain. Yes, Facebook absolutely should be held accountable for privacy and data breaches, as should any online platform that asks for user information upon sign-up.
But I ask you to look beyond that. Volvo CE summarised the benefits of the internet and modern technology for employment and construction with just five points. On an individual level, connectivity benefits students across the globe (with access to the relevant technology) with education and connection to tutoring or teachers in a timely manner if they so need it, and creates communities.
The gaming community as pioneers
Massively multi-player online games don’t just promote the individual ‘greatness’—often, MMOs will focus on teamwork and building of a community. If you wish to be successful in a game, you are often required to interact with your team. This has been the beginning of some long friendships between players that might live countries away from one another.
Modern technology, that is the interactive Internet and online games (specifically MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft) means that I don’t feel lonely anymore. Whenever I’m online, I always feel that I’m connected to a global community.Comment by Feedback on BBC Have Your Say: Is modern life making us lonely?
Note that, while esports are not a new concept (being older than social media), they are an excellent way to show the benefits of online communities. Here is an avenue of entertainment as wide, popular, and dramatic as any “physical” sports game today, even garnering enough attention they were at one time considered for an appearance at the Olympics.
Even the games that are not quite as “online” as esports, MMOs or co-op enabled games, can be where ‘your people are’. The Devil May Cry subreddit, for example, is probably my favourite place to hang out on a Thursday morning for no particular reason. It helps I get to see someone share a super sexy stylish combat video (also convenient that they just had a freestyle tournament viewers had to vote on their favourite game play), fun photos from in-game, and oh lord the memes. But we’re getting off track.
It’s about finding the right community for you.
Social media platforms with individual user “walls” and pages that people can travel to and have a stare at for five minutes are not the best examples of the benefits of our current day technology. They are the equivalent of your neighbour showing up at 11pm just to creepily gaze at your lounge room wall and ask what you did yesterday.
I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.Robin Williams
Online chat rooms and forums are significantly more appropriate examples. They can simulate a group location—your classroom, the local coffee shop, a library, or a game room. Take your pick. You can dive in with text or voice chat and make that platform whatever you want it to be.
A study conducted in 2010 regarding the effectiveness of voluntary discussion on forums with students showed that those who took part in forum discussions “tended to have better performance [in their course], and furthermore that participating in the discussion forum, particularly reading posts on the forum, slightly improved exam performance”. Given that forums can simulate classroom environments and promote positive discussion, this is unsurprising.
If you feel lonely, even with your connectivity, the best thing you can do is find a community that suits your needs. The World Economic Forum even has some advice regarding it and how to overcome it. But it’s not because technology today is isolating you from real people—who do you think you’re talking to in your chat room?