The internet is not as disconnected as many believe it to be. This past weekend in a catch-up call with a friend, she reminded me of how we met online a few years ago. It was a precursor to pandemic communication. Long before social distancing we have been continuing our friendship online. The divide in the digital world will always come about with how we use social media; for good or evil.
Think back to a time before using the internet was as common as it is today. If we wanted to raise funds, we would have a snack dance at the local community hall. Kids would use lists to raise the money needed to fund a trip or excursion. The internet gave us globalisation of all kinds. Now crowdfunds are done in online spaces that help pay tuition fees and start up businesses. All this behind a computer screen. No physical contact at all. Social media is a tool for philanthropy worldwide. It also normalises social distancing, and eliminates the chore of setting up physical meetings. There is also the risk of scammers, but scamming has always been part of the human condition. Online spaces have just made it easier to swindle money out of people. I think at one point all of us found out via email we have inherited $1 billion from a long-lost relative.
Relationships online and offline have the same elements; complex, scary but worth it to navigate. While it is easier to be introduced to someone face to face; the same fears exist. Online dating is a lucrative business and we can present our best selves to potential partners. But when the relationship moves offline, we can’t hide our imperfections behind filters. These are the very same imperfections that contribute to someone falling for you. The internet is just glossy packaging for the real deal. We can mold real relationships online. I have close friendships with people in my everyday life that started from a DM slide. I’d never trade it for the world. I am a huge proponent for anyone shooting a friendship shot in my DM’s. We can connect organically online,and it feels as fulfilling as an offline friendship. The work that goes into relationships online are the same as offline. The test is with any relationship is the value both individuals place on it, as in offline life.
My eleven year old niece has had school lessons from home since the pandemic started. I have witnessed her ease with email instructions, and how she gets her work done. She is comfortable with it but has also told me how much she misses that instant connection with a teacher and her classmates. That kind of connection has no substitute. As young as she is, she started her schooling with a face to face connection. Her adaptability has been admirable as opposed to my own. I find it hard at times to constantly be on calls and video chats, because of that missing human connection. Pandemic living has brought out so many emotions we had no idea we had. But it has also shown us that working from any space has always been possible. It took Covid-19 to push us into this direction. There are advantages; no travel costs, lesser exposure to the virus, and I get to sit wrapped in blankets at my desk as I type away. The pros of working and learning from home outweighs the cons. Also I get to stink up the microwave with last night’s beans curry and roti, without freaking out my colleagues.
The gritty truth is not everyone has access to the internet, and the daily information we consume every day. Two weeks ago I tweeted this.
Someone slid into my DMs, gave the practical advice and the family were able to bury their son a week later. It was a few tweets that took me five minutes, that took away five months of waiting for this family. I am privileged to have access to the internet, and it is to have that in South Africa. We need to be cognisant of our privilege with things we take for granted like emails and tweets.
There are the good and bad sides of the world wide web. The internet has unknowingly been preparing us for the longest time to adapt to pandemic living. It is just a conduit for human behaviour. It is up to us not to misuse this tool. We dictate our humanity with or without a speedy fibre line.