Present-day Japan represents the global crescendo of technological advancements, digital innovations, internet-based lifestyles and the widespread public utilisation of web-based services.
The dark side of this supposedly thriving digital dynasty is clearly evident when one rides the Japanese metro or any other form of public transportation, for that matter. One will undoubtedly observe all the passengers to be fixated on their phones as though in a trance, without even a momentary glance at the person beside them. This behaviour exemplifies a growing disinterest towards casual physical interactions. It can be argued that Japan’s inverted population pyramid1 is a quantitative indicator that represents this growing degradation in physical networking as social networking grows in vogue.
Let me be amply clear in that. Japan is not an isolated example but the most obvious one and hence an excellent example of this interpersonal disconnect. India is not far behind if one observes the younger generations and their rabidly scrolling hands and their obsession with social media handles.
The digital medium of communication and interaction, while liberating us from the limitations of distance, speed of communication and transmission of capacity, has shackled us into a digital world, thereby alienating us from our social nature and leaving the interactive needs of humanity, wanting.
Mentality of Misdirection
Modern digital forms of communication like social media have caused changes to the mentality of people. Social media has deteriorated the human idea of communication into one of ‘Show and Tell’. Precedence is awarded to flaunting and displaying our lives over truly enjoying and cherishing the experiences that life rewards us with.
This rampant display of personal propaganda aiming at representing oneself superfluously has given birth to a strengthened resurgence of materialism. The urge to display more extravagant brands, purchases and luxurious vacations has been augmented by the desire to one-up and outdo the posts made by others.
A pseudo representation of oneself has become the norm, where one’s ‘digital identity is carefully curated. The real personal identity slowly diminishes until the individual is alienated from himself. Such alienation can be considered as a digitally induced iteration of the Marxist Theory of Alienation (1927)2.
Another inevitable occurrence accompanying the rotund flaunting of one’s digital identity is ‘remote judgmentalism’. Society has awarded itself the right to sit in front of its digital screens and pass judgement and criticise people without knowing anything about the person. The perceived consequence-free territory of the internet’s comment sections has disfigured netizens into vile hate mongers, petty terrorists and exaggerators.
Digital connectivity has completely altered the way we interact with one another. The most evident change is the impetus towards people trying to copy the lifestyles of digitally renowned personalities and peers. This phenomenon is the ‘demonstration effect’.3
In the process of imitation, the way we communicate with one another has changed. We live today in the emoji-era where people find it easier to text one another than having a conversation face to face. This has created an incapacity to express our true emotions.
Along with our inability to express emotions, we have also become emotionally insensitive. This is seen in the culture of trolling and abusive meme formats where the underlying intention is an insult and not humour. Trolls and memes represent an internet-stimulated evolution in our modes of expression and it is an innovation in our communicative abilities. However, these forms have been repeatedly used in cyberbullying and for the unqualified slandering of reputations.
Changes in our expressive, emotive and interactive modalities have even impacted our basic biological function of courtship and mating. ‘Digital Courtship’through app-based platforms like ‘Tinder’ have further deteriorated our interactive capabilities. It has also led to an increased engagement in meaningless acts of promiscuity instead of fostering real and meaningful connections.
This incapacity to form true connections and real bonds is further evidence of the growing interpersonal inability among people.
Such massive changes in the mental functioning, emotive ability and interactive capacity of individuals have an inevitable bearing on the human psyche. The most common lapse in the psyche is an ‘acute attention disorder’. Continuous use of digital devices has robbed individuals of the ability to pay attention to people and things for extended periods.
The shortening in one’s attention spans is even more evident in the younger generation who have been exposed to technology from infancy. We may have also experienced minor symptoms of mobile (cell-phone) addiction in instances where we feel that maybe our phone buzzed or vibrated.4
Cases of social media-induced anxiety due to either fear or victimisation of remote judgment is a new phenomenon. Such anxieties often materialise in the form of digital addiction.
These psychological issues not only isolate and alienate us from society but also ourselves.
The array of changes brought about by digital connectivity has some serious consequences on individuals, and concomitantly, society at large. An immediate consequence is the rising sense of vulnerability that emerges due to the public nature of digital life and social media profiles.
These vulnerabilities can drive individuals into social exclusion through self-isolation, leading to the development of anti-social tendencies. When these mental (psychological)patterns materialise into one’s behavioural impetus they result in tragedies, like the lone wolf attack in Christchurch, New Zealand (15 March 2019). Digital communication has facilitated the dissemination of radical and extremist thought therein enabling self-radicalisation which poses a threat to society.
These consequences destabilise the social structure with the deterioration of basic social capital. Immersion into the digital realm results in poor emotional communication both within families and social environments like schools and workplaces. We as a society pay greater attention to retweets and online posts than the emotional states and mental framework of those physically around us.
Demolishing the Digital Disconnect
The rapid onset and adoption of digital communications have brought many advantages to society. However, it is our duty to identify its negative outcomes and rectify them. Safeguarding future generations is of primary importance. State-sponsored programs for parent education on raising children in a digital environment may be an unrecognised necessity.
Taking the essential time off from our busy schedules to engage in family activities regularly will enable interpersonal skills and stimulate the sharing of emotions. Developing a culture of dinner table discussions in the absence of technology will promote openness and recalibrate familial attention to members who require the same.
Reforming the education system to inculcate a balance in the interactive ability of children, both physically and digitally, is necessary. In the spirit of ‘Fit India’, people must engage in physical activity in place of mindless scrolling and purposeless lurking on online platforms and forums. Such physical engagement contributes greatly to the alleviation of mental stress and also fosters the confidence to engage with people in person.
Although digital connectivity has transformed the world and metaphorically shrunken the Earth, humankind has never been more (lonely) alone, aloof to his fellow people and emotionally isolated. Careful and streamlined steps taken by governments, educationists, employees and families can deflate these few negative realities that ride pillion with digital connectivity. This will enable us to enjoy all the positive contributions of digital communication while protecting the social equilibrium.
"The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Renaissance"
Traphagan W, John. “How Demography Is Changing Japan.” The Diplomat, Diplomat Media Inc, 26 Feb 2013, https://thediplomat.com/2013/02/how-demography-is-changing-japan/. Accessed 5 June 2021. ↩
Lowe, Dan. “Karl Marx’s Conception of Alienation.”, 1000 Word Philosophy, 13 May 2015, https://1000wordphilosophy.com/2015/05/13/karl-marxs-conception-of-alienation/. Accessed 5 June 2021. ↩
Ahmed Uddin, Helal. “Impact of demonstration effect in society.” The Financial Express, The Financial Express, 8 Nov 2017, https://www.thefinancialexpress.com.bd/views/impact-of-demonstration-effect-in-society-1510155138. Accessed 5 June 2021. ↩
Kruger J, Daniel. “Here’s Why You Hear Your Phone Buzz—Even Though It Actually Hasn’t.” Observer, 22 March 2017, https://observer.com/2017/03/psychology-of-phantom-cellphone-buzzes-research-smartphones-auditory-hallucinations/. Accessed 5 June 2021. ↩