Friday, December 16, 2011

Face to Face to Facebook???

Version 1 - Revised editions forthcoming..

Words. They are the means in which we relay everything to one another.

Hostility appears to be growing world-wide in virtual forums where face to face interaction occurs less and less and words represent our character "in action" instead of "in deed".  We can choose not to interact in cyberspace, but if we do, our choosing to do so comes with our words only...and becoming void of face-to-face action in everyday life.

One time, for my first master's I wrote a hypothesis that relationships can meaningfully form and others can be intimately connected in an online learning environment or any other cyber environment also known as Computer Medicated Communication (CMC). That theory, even though not very well accepted at the time I presented it to a leary faculty of was considered in some ways "hogwash" by academicians upon my defense of my thesis.  Overtime, however, this theory of mine has proven itself true more so than ever.

Consider this, in 1350 A.D, there were 370 million people in the world and today there are 800 million Facebook users online who have an account interacting in cyberspace to some degree.  Today's world population is approximately 7 billion according to a BBC report given on the news in October, 2011.  SEVEN BILLION.

That means if there were 2 people in the world, essentially one person would have a computer and that same person would have a Facebook account.

What does this mean psychologically for individuals who are more communicative in cyberspace than face-to-face?  Over time, social networking has replaced the telephone and research indicates from a Plymouth University study that "cyberspace users were found to be more lonely and socially anxious, and more likely to disclose their ‘real-self’ through cyberspace than via face-to-face."

This has produced a model of behavior where individuals were not able to locate their authentic selves - of the locus of their souls -  and mediated negatively between the loneliness and social anxiety measures and the impact of these on relational outcomes.

One in eight couples who meet online, get married.   These sites specifically focused on finding a partner have a different impact than those sites who exist and focus on maintaining a network of friends.

MySpace, Friendster and now Facebook have proliferated social networking to the next level of relationship development.  Some of which isn't that positive for well being either.

Unfortunately there is little research completed with a wide enough sample to substantiate a full range perspective on the negative long term effects of social networking that focus on maintaining friendships, etc.

The biggest danger of social networking is the tendency to trigger isolating behaviours. Biological and chemical changes ensue according to several studies completed in the medical fields regarding neurological changes from using social networking sites like Facebook.

Isolating behaviours then trigger and "fool" the immune system, change the way genes work, confusing the immune response, hormone levels, arterial function, and damage to mental performance. This is indeed contradicts the aim of the establishment of social networking sites, where users promised hereafter to be able to find old friends and network and "keep up" easier in a social realm.

The average facebook user has 130 friends according to Facebook's statistics.  What can this mean long term?

The user may eventually be drawn into an artificial world. Someone who’s friends are mainly individuals who are just found on Facebook eventually will find it difficult to communicate "face-to-face". This behavior can increase the risk of serious health issues, such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, and dementia (senility), according to Dr Aric Sigman in The Biologist, in the journal article released by The Institute of Biology.

Not meeting is face-to-face has an effect on the body that are not visible when sending e-mail. Levels of hormones such as oxytocin which encourages people to hug or interact with each other often change, several genes, including genes related to immune system and response to stress, act differently, depending on how often a person does social interaction with others.

Also, according to Dr. Sigman, "The electronic media is slowly destroying the ability of children and young adults to learn social skills and reading body language. “

What about expressing opinion in an online forum or Facebook?  

Back in 1997, I had the pleasure or developing the 4th in the World Online Master's Degree Program in Economics for an accredited University in the United States.  A few years later, I had also had the opportunity to be the "cyber-police" for an international online dating site and then owned an online dating site of my own for a little while.  In 1997, the word "flaming" didn't exist in the context of intentionally hurting people with words in virtual environments.  By the time I owned the online dating site, we had to put numerous "rules" in place about flaming.

For those of you who do not know what flaming is... Flaming, is by definition... (and a good one has been posted in Wikipedia)  a hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users.

What has developed over time is what psychologists call the "Online Disinhibition Effect" or "ODE".  ODE refers to the behaviour people exhibit in cyberspace environments with less restraint than the real world.   By no means is this going to be a part of the DSM- V (The Diagnostician Manual for Psychologists) anytime soon, but I feel that we all can relate to this effect to a large extent.

The "You don't know me face to face" in cyberspace offers protection to virtual users.  Protection and anonymity can be helpful for those who just want to lurk and listen and this kind of protection can provide a meaningful release for people in that they feel free to say things they might otherwise be embarrassed to, but by the same token, it also provides an outlet for behaviours that others might term antisocial or harmful.

And what happens when other's can't see you face to face as you sit there in front of your computer???    Doesn't it make it much easier to lower your inhibitions than if you were standing face to face with someone you wanted to communicate with about something unpleasant?

Remember the Regular Post and sending letters to one another.. This is the same thing but now larger than life.  In high school, I remember writing letters to people that I didn't want to talk to face to face and avoid them like the plague!   I broke up with boys via letters, talked to my best friends via notes in school and passed notes like a fiend - many times because I was too chicken to confront them face to face to tell them my true feelings!

Nothing has changed with this concept. But it has been grown exponentially with the advent of Social Networking.  The danger of Social Networking and this idea is that the author of asynchronous post allows that post to "soak" and "sink in" with their audience.  Because of this, it's easier for someone to "throw their opinions out" and then leave; a person can make a single post that might be considered very personal, emotionally charged, or inflammatory and then "run away" by simply not logging in again. In this way, the person achieves catharsis by "voicing" their feelings, even if the audience is just as invisible.

It allows any receiver of that post to "mull it over", have it "sink in", and read it over and over again until it grows into a perceived reality in a person's mind.  

Unfortunately, as I have said many times before, you can't suck the toothpaste back into the tube! What's said is said! AMEN!  How many times have you  clicked "send" or posted something that you are not able to take back and reaped negative consequences for it??  Thank goodness for "delete post" on Facebook, right?  

Even more dangerous is assigning imagined identity to a person in a virtual environment.  Reading another person's message may insert imagined images of what a person looks like or sounds like into the mind, and mentally assigns an identity to these things.  Before you ever see a person's picture or meet them face to face, how many times have you said, "That person seems like they are tall, short, fat, skinny, brown headed or bald?"

The implication seems rather clear and ultimately can result in cyber-bullying or even cyber-stalking from lowering restraint due to lack of eyeball-to-eyeball communication!

I also have had the extreme DISPLEASURE of a cyberstalker for three years in my past.  Before cyber laws and my volunteer stint with the CyberCrime Units in Colorado, cyber-bullying and cyberstalking laws were not prominent of considered of any value (or cyberstalking was not considered harmful) to individuals who were harassed online.

Eventually, laws have been realized and implemented for protection of individuals about these types of virtual harassment.

According to Norman H. Holland, “people regress,” when communicating online, because, among other reasons, the physical distance from other users and the inability to interpret body language and physical reactions results in a lack of direct feedback.[9]

All of this rhetoric and why?  We have become a virtual social networking world where CMC is a necessary part of life.  So what can we do to make our exchanges in cyberspace health and positive and effectively communicate out thoughts, feelings and project our real selves as we communicate???

  1. Whether you like it or ready and accept the fact that there is bajillion amounts of small talk.  About the weather, the color of a person's dog, my hair (like tonight), the peas that burnt on the stove and things like that.  Focus on commonalities in small talk when starting to form relationships with one another.  Be authentic and real with yourself.  Good online communicators will intuit your authenticity.
  2. Be clear, be direct, be concise.  When I taught Business Communication at the Undergraduate leve... I often told me students this motto, "Get in, get out and get going".  Be efficient but kind in your words.  Humour and sarcasm often get lost in the translation in virtual does meaning.  Write your posts on a separate page first and read them a few times before posting if you are not sure about how it will be interpreted.
  3. Make a person feel comfortable online.  Break out of the awkwardness and compliment and encourage others often to post how they feel postively. If they unintentionally offend you, private message them and request a conversation or chat session of possible to clear the air. RESIST THE URGE TO FLAME THEM.
  4. Respectfully disagree if you have to disagree on something.  Disagreeing with someone is MUCH better done in private than on a comment string.  Be respectful and take disagreements OFF LINE and INTO THE PRIVATE REALM.
  5. Just like we don't want people to drink and drive.  Don't social network under the influence!  I don't think I have to go into the reasons why that is the case.  Ever wake up with a social network hangover?  Not pretty-- AT ALL!
Those are just a few things to remember...and they are all common knowledge pretty much.

Bottom line.. the world has changed the way we communicate.  Good or bad we are an entire world made up of Facebook...and it's your choice how you choose to communicate there.  

Let's just say it's time we all SET the example instead of being the example those studies warn us about!

Over and out..from THIS virtual environment..... 

Happy Trails..and I'll be virtually seeing all of you around - (TM)

several excerpts have been taken my from '"Creating Connection Online" thesis - Written Sept, 1999-May, 2000.

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