The ‘Real’ You in the Digital World

Older generations lament that it erodes the value of physical human to human contact. The younger generations argue that they have more friends than ever before. The truth is, we are all connected in a number of ways that one decade ago was simply unfathomable. All fingers point to? Social media. Generation Y may remember rushing home from primary school to chat with their friends on Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN), a platform on which the juiciest secrets were shared. Subsequent classes the next morning would host mischievous grins and tell-tale smirks with the pre-release of the latest Who’s who of boyfriend-girlfriend pairs all announced for those who were engaged enough on their parents’ computers overnight. Strict promises of confidentiality would be tested as those knowledgeable enough to know who the prettiest girl in the class ‘liked’ yielded question after question. Online interaction, it seems, created a fruitful haven for intimate conversation where personal feelings were divulged and budding friendships built. And we were only eleven years old. 

So does Windows Live Messenger precipitate our current use of social media? Just as our eleven year old selves did, we find comfort and shelter in conversing behind glowing screens, whether they be on mobiles, laptops or desktops. Nowadays, information exchanged between friends is vastly more via text than verbal communication. For the naysayers who argue that this represents the death of ‘real’ human interaction, a rebuttal can be hurled right back. Yes, “OK” may seem a blunt reply to your grandmother when she arduously texts you: “Good evening my dear, how was your day? (Love Grandma XOXO)”, but as foreign as it seems to the elder generations, communication is no longer via eloquently and carefully typed SMS’s, but rather a virtual likeness of yourself that current technology renders more and more realistic.

Fact check: there are currently over 1500 emojis available on Facebook’s Messenger service. Can any human contort their face into all the emoji expressions available? Emojis further freedom of expression and enable an accurate representation of a person’s true feelings. Used in conjunction with a status update, whether you’re angry, sad, puzzled or differing levels of horrified, there is an emoji available to keep your friends informed of your predicament. Facebook’s incorporation of the react function last year reflected this growing trend of real time emotive expression. So the next time you’re puzzled by your friend’s facial reaction only to realise that he/she possesses the infamous resting b*&^h face, tell them to use an emoji, it’ll clear things up. While it is understandably difficult for older generations to adjust to this new climate of virtual representation, it is worth explaining that genuine human interaction is not being eroded by the many social media platforms available, but rather transported into a new medium of two dimensional (and in some cases, three-dimensional) reality. 

As far as emojis go in enhancing our ability to express genuine feelings, social media platforms such as Snapchat allow us to further craft the most genuine version of ourselves possible through Bitmoji. Evan Spiegel $64.2 million purchase of BitStrips in March last year was a strategic step in staying ahead of Facebook’s worrying copycat trends: the cloning of Snap’s originally popular functions of stories and direct photo/video messaging. Remember the Nintendo Wii, and the excitement of putting together your bobble-headed alter ego before he/she ventured out for another vicious round of Wii Tennis? The gimmick was prescient, though crude in its beginnings. Snapchat now allows a customisation of clothes, hairstyle, facial features and uniquely personal attributes so vast in range that users often compete to create a cartoon doppelganger. Camera shy or feeling dishevelled? No worries, recent updates let you augment your reality, subjecting your cartoon version to a range of actions representative of your emotions, whether it be blowing a kiss (I love you!) or flying with a jetpack (Woohoo finally done with exams!).  

Ever pinched out on your camera screen? You’ll see each of your avatar’d friends standing on the area they’re currently at, down to the street level, waiting impatiently for you to join them. Complimentary bonus: if they’ve put it on their Story, you can even check out what they are doing, down to the most recent shenanigan. Putting aside the controversial and potentially risky aspect of this geo-positioning feature, Snapchat’s Maps mode pushes online interaction further along a spectrum where the medium ultimately precedes reality. The medium, being our virtual personas, and the reality, being these personas meeting in person. How many times have we viewed a profile on Tinder and decided that its portrayal wasn’t attractive enough? Swipe left. Even upon reaching the hallowed ground (how hallowed, depending on your level of attractive-picture-posting savviness) of matching with a potential date, how often has this carried through to an actual coffee meeting? Yes, this may be another argument for the dearth of traditional human to human contact but is it not representative of social media’s current trajectory?

We are what we curate our online presences to be. Technology is making it easier and more accessible to do so. There is a synergy between online social media and physical human to human contact as we select the people we want to interact with based on what we think of their profile. For businesses, attractive online presence is key, and services such as a digital agency in Bangkok aid in driving initial customer interaction and subsequent retention. Introduced in 2007, iPhone revolutionised mobile communication with its crisp, large multi-touch display. Pictures and videos could be viewed, sent and received easier than ever before. Jn August, Apple announced iPhone X (X as in the roman numeral, not the alphabet), aptly named to celebrate the gargantuan company’s tenth anniversary of phone sales.

Happy 10th Birthday to iPhone, and Happy Birthday to a new era of online social interaction.

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