Thursday, 16 June 2011

Closer Than Ever or A Million Miles From Home?

As an expat, people often ask me whether I get homesick or miss the people back home in South Africa.  I often tell them that I don’t really, because platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it feel as though we have simply carried on chatting everyday, and I still get to share in births, engagement parties, dinner parties and annual holidays.  I tend to go home for the weddings!

To mark their 100th birthday, Nivea have commissioned psychologist Professor Geoff Beattie to conduct research into how social media affects levels of closeness in Britain.  It is an interesting study and they hypothesise that far from encouraging shallow and meaningless relationships, the relative anonymity of the Internet encourages us to share more with others and therefore, we become closer. 

So when I see photos of my friends on Facebook, it is as good as catching up over a cup of tea and because the Internet encourages me to share more about myself, I become closer with the people I interact with.  When friends ‘like’ or comment on something I post, they are responding to me which in turn fosters positive regard and mutual understanding.

Having been somewhat interested in social research in university, I certainly can see where they’re going with this but I initial reaction was “yes, but…”

It all immediately made me think of this photo.  This was taken at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg in March 2007.  My brother has been living in England for a year and was returning home for a holiday.  That gleeful person there hugging him is me.  I was overjoyed to see him and more importantly, to actually see him in person.

No matter how much we share online and how we connect with each other, nothing can beat being with people in person.  We’re human beings which means we’re basically intelligent animals.  We need to be with people, to hear their voices and to touch them.  It is not just family either.  I try as hard as I can to email my friends back home but fifteen minutes spent watching the sun set in Johannesburg in December meant more to us than two whole years spent emailing and following each other on Facebook.

So, what do you think?  Is the Internet the way of the future where we can spread out across the globe and come to a point where physical interaction is engineered out of us?  Or do we need physical interaction as much as we need air and water?

Perhaps it is simple as discarding our cynicism and doubts and appreciating every single bit of intimacy and friendship we can get, no matter what the source?  It might not be as good as seeing them in person, but as an expat, I would be lost with Facebook, Twitter, email and this blog.

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15 comments

  1. I want both things. I'm too shy and anonymity on the Internet has helped me a lot, especially in regards to connecting with people who write. That doesn't replace being with my people, although it would be nice if they liked writing, lol.

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  2. You wrote "I tend to go home for the weddings!" - not "I tend to go to South Africa for weddings" or "I fly out from London for weddings". Home is home! It is where mum and dad live; where you were born, raised and educated; where your oldest and best friends are.

    Over time this will inevitably change. There will come a day when the parents, aunts and cousins are no longer alive, and when you start to think and dream in your new language.
    [Language is not relevant for the UK obviously but for my son in Israel, when he stopped thinking in English, he knew home was where he had moved TO].

    The Internet will never be real life but it is way better, over impossible distances, than anything else. My neighbours are South African. Their elderly mum is still in Cape Town - the four adult children and all the grandchildren went to London, Melbourne, Tel Aviv and Vancouver. The Internet sustains life between visits.

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  3. I agree that social media is a great way to keep in touch but there is nothing like the real thing of face to face contact. I love the pic of you and your brother- you can see the happiness on your face!

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  4. I can certainly agree, I've become close again to people I once went to school with many years ago because of social media. I've even made a few friends but you are right, seeing someone for the first time especially after a long time is not something that can easily be compared.

    I think Hels before me has it quite right, the internet sustains between visits.

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  5. I am a very introverted person, and were it not for social sites, I may not have friends at all. My mother also lives far away from me, and yet, with Facebook, it feels like we see each other every day.
    Of course, it is easier to sit and chat face to face - and you can do things like óh, have you heard this song/band' - so the visits are still required, but I think we miss each other less than we would without this level of contact.

    We had our high school reunion earlier this year, and, even though most of my class now lives abroad, we are still in continuous contact, and one of the ladies who came back for the reunion commented on how it felt like her and I were neighbours, because we share pictures of the kids and day to day life on Facebook, so we know exactly what's happening.

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  6. i have no doubt, ms. emm, that the interwebthingymabob is indeed making our globe even smaller. there is marked difference in my communication now then, say, a mere 10 years ago. i click twice and i am sending felicitations to a friend from Joburg or condolences to a friend in Sydney or corresponding with a new friend in Tibet, or writing a guest piece for an editor in Paris. it really is quite extroardinary social media has put us in touch with each other.

    but that's key, your picture with your brother ... touch ... we reach out online, but we must connect in-person. communication is terrific, but friendship (lasting friendship) require physical bonding, a cuppa, a hug, the sound of a voice, to become "real." these cyber friendships are important and fun and for some they're life-saving, but IMHO, connecting requires that one extra step of meeting up in-person.

    but ... mutual commentating on our blog network ain't half-bad either.

    ;)

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  7. Quite true, even some of times when we are not able to express our love, social media is a good medium to express it.

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  8. I think social media has allowed us to interact more with friends and even strangers we otherwise might never have come across. Facebook has definitely allowed people to be more engaged with friends near and far. Twitter, blogging, and the internet in general, I think, have developed our sharing and interaction skills. I would like to think this brings humans closer together even though we might not be physically closer. Nothing beats face-to-face interactions, but there are some who communicate better through typing which is okay if it gets them to reach out and make connections. Professor Beattie's research sounds intriguing. I would be interested to hear his findings.

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  9. Physical presence matters. Period :-)

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  10. Great post and I agree. It`s great to have the internet when my SpiderDan is at work in the north sea..:-)
    Thanks for all your nice comment! Happy week to you

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  11. It's great you had a sponsored post:)

    I think social media has a place in our lives; it will only grow over time as new forms of media come on the scene. However, there is nothing like physical presence. An email is just an email, but a hug is a hug! Nothing can beat that.

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  12. social networking sites are great for staying connected with old friends and relatives but of course, nothing beats meeting someone face to face. i really the shot of you and your brother, how precious and so sweet.

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  13. I think we're all agreed that face to face contract trumps online contact!

    @ Josep: your comment reminded me that the Internet is a really great place to meet people with similar views and values to your own. I love the intellectual stimulation.

    @ Hels: heh. But when I'm in SA or out of London, I can never wait to get back 'home'. I know what you mean though.

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  14. @ Jessica: Ha! I'm quite find of my younger brother, I must admit.

    @ Jason: yes, I too have reconnected with old school friends, sometimes with surprisingly positive results!

    @ JG: I totally agree. Touch is that final step and can often cement new online relationships or reaffirm old friendships.

    @ Atlas Shrugged: true. Unfortunately, I think the less tech savvy people appreciate social media expressions of love less.

    @ AVC8teur: I still express myself far better in words than in person but my closest friends and family seem to prefer just speaking to me!

    @ Ash: okay then!

    @ Spiderdama: definitely! The Internet was amazing when I was separated from Mister Emm for four months.

    @ Clueless in Boston: yeah, I'm enjoying the opportunity to engage in some paid writing. It is a challenge and is different to writing just for me.

    @ Life Ramblings: it is definitely one of my favourite photos!

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  15. Itnernet is widenining the number of people you know-that is for sure
    but still, we should care for face-to-face relations as much as possible

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