This post isn't going to be your generic "social media makes you feel bad" complaining session - at least I hope not. In fact, I'm not sure I completely buy what I'm about to say, but as with all things, talking it out might solidify my position.
I think one major aspect of being connected virtually that we don't actively talk about is the mere act of being connected itself. It's easy to point fingers at Instagram stories and Snapchat streaks to criticize FOMO culture and ingenuine social bonds, but I'm talking about how having direct and constant access to people without a geographical barrier might actually make us less connected.
With the ability to call, text and video chat (which I'll go into as to why I think it actually might be the worst in terms of contributing to my focus of criticism in this post) at any time with anyone regardless of distance, I think we are subconsciously building an obligation that we must keep up with everyone we have ties to regardless of them being in our immediate vicinity. If you're a massive social machine or a networking giant, this is obviously a plus. Never in human history were we able to keep in touch and "poke" people with such little effort. However, it does become a problem with the inability to immerse fully in the community that you belong to.
Call me outdated, but I think there are inherent limitations of virtual connection. I'm not just talking about shakey internet connections or false depictions of happy lifestyles, but quite literally the lack of in-person connection. I'll openly admit I have no scientific background to describe what I'm describing, but there's something innately beneficial about understanding a person's "vibe" by being next to them physically. In this post-COVID era, we are facing a weird sense of empowerment of virtual connection. We probably all have colleagues we've never met in person (especially if you switched jobs during the pandemic, which is a rather significant amount of people) and feel as though they are our friends. They very well could be, but it is still limited to the quality of their webcam and the number of times you've heard them say "can I share my screen."
With this overwhelming sense of needing to maintain our virtual connections, which expands from our hometown friends on Facebook, college roommates on Instagram and virtual colleagues on Slack, I believe we're slowly but surely forgetting to invest in the physical community around us. As much as I enjoy work from home, in some ways I await the rapid return to normalcy (and almost wish there was less of the "new normal") as a forced way for us to become intimate (I know that's a weird word choice here but I didn't want to thesaurusDOTcom) in person again. I also acknowledge that the virtual obsession was well on its way prior to COVID - I'm definitely not trying to pursue an impossible utopia where we all get rid of cellphones and hold hands together.
My main concern is that as we growingly find maintaining bonds with those not around us to be more convenient than investing time into our neighbors, we'll reach a tipping point where communities no longer deem valuable to those that previously seeked it. The concern is more for those that seek such a physical community, that unfortunately no longer may exist as its previous participants are too busy on a 32-person Facetime call with their friends all over the globe. Being face-to-face (still virtually) makes up for the tone and facial expressions often lost over text and call, but I think it actually serves as a trap for people to feel intact with those they're calling and trick themselves into thinking the connection is a good enough substitute to meeting in person.
It's important to note that this argument does not properly address the benefits with enabling border-free connection - such mediums allow for families overseas to keep in touch (I'm a direct beneficiary), for important long distance relationships to not end as well as provide communities and bonds for those that may have a restrictive physical community. Furthermore, it gives rise to interest-based groups to mutually-benefit from connecting with each other without the need of a physical meeting place and travel cost restrictions, ranging from virtual churches to Valorant Discord servers.
As we return to the physical workplace, academic institutions and our favorite bars, I think it's important to keep in mind that often times we are so focused on maintaining what's in our pockets that we forget to stay connected with who's in front of us. Don't forget to follow me on Instagram (@bryan_jun), Youtube (Bryan Jun) and give me a Facetime call if you have my number and haven't talked to me in awhile.