I often think about how much our online personas differs from our personality in reality. There is undoubtedly a difference. The internet world means, with its instantaneous posts, endless new information and truly global reach, that our mannerisms on this virtual world will inevitably differ from our behaviour in the real world. Perhaps someone is more sarcastic or more confident on this online world than their shy, real life personality would suggest.
This is because, despite everything, the online world has many merits. For some, especially those with anxiety, it will always be an easier place to communicate than the judgements created by the real world. In those scenarios, there is far less time to think. People are standing there, waiting for an answer and response, which can inevitably be daunting. Online, one has more time to think before constructing an answer. Inevitably, this is beneficial to many.
During the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is having to recognise the benefits of transferring to the online world. With communication between households in-person strongly discouraged and a daily allowance of one walk per day, the main method for friends and colleagues to communicate is via the internet. For many, this has always been the case, whether it’s through social media or families across different parts of the world. Each have utilised what the world can offer.
Such is the intimacy and personalised nature of technology that we can believe it is individually speaking to each of us, even when it is providing company for millions
For others, apps like ‘Houseparty’, which has boomed in name recognition and popularity, are their lifeline for speaking to those outside of their own household. They provide something different to simply writing an email or a Facebook message. By actually speaking, ‘Houseparty’ gives people the chance to see someone else’s face, hear their tone of voice and explore their communication.
Indeed, despite taking place in a virtual context, apps like ‘Houseparty’ play a vital role in the experience of being human. We cannot detect proper signals in someone’s emotions and expression by simply writing a message; we have to see them for a proper understanding of what they are thinking. Furthermore, it helps to satisfy the human need for external exploration and communication. Even though I quite enjoy my own company, I recognise the need for the company of others as part of this. Most people will now be using apps to communicate with friends as the basis of how they will cope being with their family on a long term basis.
That, indeed, is one of the wonders of modern technology. From the introduction of radio to the age of television, the first YouTube video to the latest internet craze, apps like these provide a level of human connection. For many, they will have no company in this period. There will be nobody with them, they will simply be alone with only the radio for a voice. This, however, can be a powerful, if not complete substitute. Such is the intimacy and personalised nature of technology that we can believe it is individually speaking to each of us, even when it is providing company for millions. With modern online apps, discussion with friends can provide an intimacy that, in the current context, just cannot be achieved in real life.
At the end of the experience, we will always leave the app and then be alone
However, such online apps are far from perfect. Will the online world ever serve everyone? I highly doubt it. On a practical level, large groups of people talking online can make it tricky for everyone to hear. That could be because of factors as simple as a hearing impairment or a poor internet connection. Therefore, some people could be receiving less pleasure and enjoyment out of the conversation. For more formal gatherings, ‘Zoom’ provides a useful place for conference calling by mimicking what takes place within the real professional meetings. On a short term basis, online apps for calling people are an effective replication of the real world.
But that is the whole point. These apps can only ever be on a short term basis. Temporarily, they will do the job. In the long term, we humans require greater communication with one another. Part of being human is about seeing one another in the real world. Whether it’s for judging emotions, spending time with one another and appreciating our needs, a gathering in, say, a cafe, can never be fully compensated by any online app. At the end of the experience, we will always leave the app and then be alone. This simply isn’t sustainable. ‘Houseparty’ will work for now. Eventually, however, the party will come to an end and real human communication will need restoring.