Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

Humans are naturally social creatures who exhibit behaviors of altruism or cooperation. That is how society has been for hundreds of years, with humans building functioning civilizations and increasingly complex forms of government to adapt to these social activities and growing communication. But….that does not seem to be the case anymore. Technology has created a way for people to circumvent physical contact and interaction. Granted, communication through social media and email could technically still be called “social” behavior, but it is far from the same as talking face to face. The effects of technology have already manifested in the world and internet addiction has become an actual thing.

There is a distinct difference between spending too much time on a computer and preferring the computer over other people. Most of us have tried to finish an assignment but found our online research turning into stalking a person’s facebook profile or scrolling down long twitter feeds. Most of us have found ourselves watching more than one 90 minute long episode of Sherlock or more than one entire season of anime (never mind one single 23 minute long episode). And finally, most of us have found ourselves gaming for solid all-nighters (that we claim were dedicated to studying). Even the extent of those behaviors don’t necessarily warrant that the computer is a preferable companion to a human being; it only solidifies the simple concept that computers and Internet have become increasingly entertaining and addicting.

So what drives people to turn their computer into their best friend? Almost under any circumstances, that person had to have been lonely prior to finding a haven online. After that, the gradual loss of faith or reliance on people is only a downhill ride. There far more news articles highlighting the worst acts of humanity than the kind or virtuous acts, which does little to help a person decide to communicate with other human beings. However, the perceived “cruelty” of the world goes far beyond human morals.

People work harder and have less leisure time today than in nearly all other time periods in which humanity exist. Extreme stress and pressure to excel are developed at a very young age. In Japan, a portion of the youth population is hikikomori–a phenomenon in which Japanese youth withdraw from social behavior and is largely reasoned to be caused by the stress of the rigorous academic system and test culture. In the midst of such stress, it does seem easier to immerse oneself in a virtual reality in which identities can be made and then abandoned. Because while the Internet certainly is judgmental and opinionated, there is still that glowing screen and the infinite distance of anonymity between you and everyone else.

Getting swallowed up in virtuality is easy, but avoiding people is not, which results in high frequencies of superficial interactions and avoidance of anything deep or personal. Quite simply, it’s an ironclad safety bubble. Despite the Internet being a far from secure confidant to divulge secrets to, the aspect of speaking to a tangible person is a bit like directly confronting fears–no hiding in another window and no shortcut of clicking the red “x” to exit out of all problems. However, when that escapism develops into a sense of superiority (you have transcended base human interactions and achieved zen with technology), returning to enjoying or welcoming human social events becomes extremely difficult.

In many ways, immersing oneself in virtuality as a response to reality is a self fulfilling prophecy that results in further isolation and loneliness. While it is not possible to say that no human on earth is naturally happy alone, very very few humans can be happy alone. Sure, many people can survive alone (to an extent) and may be able to convince themselves that they’re satisfied with their lives, but in the end it is a person who is sitting behind the computer doing the communication.

Before computers became addicting, craving social interaction and attention was addicting. This article isn’t meant to propose a solution or identify concrete causes and effects or psychoanalyze reclusive, technology-induced behavior. Because beyond JR’s “The more social media we have, the more we think we’re connecting, yet we are really disconnecting from each other”, let’s simply remember Herman Hesse’s “As a body everyone is single, as a soul never.”

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the author

Lucy Zhang attends Duke University and is majoring in electrical and computer engineering. Her passions include watching anime, sleeping, and writing the occasional article or two when productivity levels are high enough.

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