Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It Is A Very Lonely World Out There

Anyone who has spent even a few minutes on their smartphones or tablets knows that the first app which is set-up and used is the "message app". You know the one I mean. The app which allows you to send text, or SMS, or video or audio to the myriad of people waiting to hear from you. There are literally hundreds of such apps falling into various categories. Usually after a month or so an individual will settle on the app which meets their needs. And more often than not,(as in my case) it is not just one app but a combination of a few, each with its own area of expertise.

In my area of the world, the most popular text message system is Whatsapp, recently bought by Facebook for a mind boggling 19 billion dollars. While I can profess no understanding of how those involved place a worth on such apps, the very fact that such sums are offered attests to their perceived worth.

I myself use a few messaging apps and systems fairly regularly. Whatsapp, Textra, Facebook Messenger, and Contacts+ come to mind. One may correctly make the implication that I am fearful of losing contact with the world around me. (I also hope to do a review on some of the most popular ones in this blog.) I also take the time to test as many as i can.

As I said, there are hundreds of such apps and if you consider the categories they fit into - SMS, Free Text, Secure, Video, Audio, and even text systems just for couples!) then we should not be surprised that everyone around us seems to be always on their phones typing away texts all day.

Or are they? Despite the billions of text messages which emanate from computers, smartphones and tablets on a daily basis, despite the enormous amount of words used, and despite the hundreds of messaging apps available, there is a huge white elephant in this room. For many people, perhaps even a majority, it is a very lonely world out there.

You see I discovered recently the one simple fallacy inherent in all chat and messaging systems. In order to carry on a chat conversation one needs someone to chat with!

For the moment let us put aside those texts sent for business purposes. These by nature have a purpose and direction. It is rather the personal side of these chat systems I am interested in.

Recently, having met a few new people who wanted to stay in touch, I told them the fastest way to get a response was to send me an SMS or Whatsapp. Every single person asked me why I prefer text messages rather than a simple phone call. I gave all my usual excuses - I often don't hear the phone; I loathe long phone calls; I never listen to voice messages (unless sent over Whatsapp or another comparable system) and finally what I did not reveal is that text messages allow me to think about my answer, whereas when I am on the phone my mouth sometimes works faster than my brain can sift through the words, which is very dangerous at times.

Interestingly enough, each one of these individuals told me they usually leave the realm of texting to their teenage children and they resort to phone calls and emails. In one discussion about the advantages of using text messages the person who was all of 30+ said very sadly, "Anyway if I used SMS the way you do I simply would have no one to text with".

That is when the whole social media revolution hit me square in the face. No matter how many Facebook "friends" one has, no matter how many people read your tweets, no matter how many Instagram photos you upload or efforts to get noticed on Snapchat - you require at least one other person to chat with you.

Some companies and app creators have recognized this challenge. Indeed despite the social media revolution or evolution (whichever term fits best) the app creators recognized this flaw. Facebook released "Rooms" (for now only on Apple) and there is Kik as well. These apps allow for anyone to remain fairly anonymous and chat with others. I honestly do not want to get into a moral, ethical or legal rights argument over this.  What is clear is that despite the hundreds of apps, the billions of users, and the trillions of text messages, it seems communication, can, for many still be a very lonely experience.

One may ask why the king of Social Media, the one who demanded until a month or so ago that user profiles be real, suddenly releases an app which is based on anonymity. Facebook owns WhatsApp, it owns Instagram, and of course it owns Facebook. So if social media is such a gigantic and incredible addition to the ability for humans to "connect" why would Facebook even be thinking about an app like "Rooms"? Why are there other apps like it out there?

Indeed, probably the most salient question, which has no real numeric answer is the one which asks, how many of you out there do not use text message systems, not because you don't like them, or because you feel they interfere with the need for real social contact - but because you are simply aware, you would have no one to talk to on the other end (outside of family, if even them)?

I would surmise this problem is the biggest flaw in all social media systems and chat systems in particular. We now have friends, then friends of friends, then the most tantalizing, friends of friends of friends. All this supposedly leads us to a greater circle of social contacts. Indeed, most of the time, it is like going to a bar, hanging out, and being the one of many lonely people who end up having a drink or two and then going home. (Not everything is like it is depicted in the movies or television, in case you have not noticed.)

I would indeed offer any of you reading this to send me a text. But wait! In Facebook you have to friend me first and have me confirm. Only then can you use the Facebook Messenger app. In LinkedIn you have to be in my circle to offer friendship, then message me in the program. In WhatsApp and virtually every other SMS or text system (though a few do not demand it), you require my phone number or I, yours. In others, you have to be in my contact list. And how do you get into a contact list? Why by becoming friends with the person in the first place!

So maybe you may meet me in "Rooms". But to be honest don't waste your time looking for me as I find anonymous chat incredibly boring and would rather spend my time on Kindle.

So, umm, in the end exactly who are all those kids and adults sending texts to at the bus stop, in their cars, at work, or at the dinner table?

Friends of course. Back and forth the texts go. And yet, somehow in this day and age, communication between people has become less. Indeed anyone who reads will find tens of thousands of articles on the growing lack of personal communication in our modern world.

But please do not blame the lack of personal communication skills on the messaging systems and apps. You see, their one great fallacy, is our Achilles heel. In the end result, even if you have 50,000 followers on your social network, it is a very lonely world out there. And that barrier, not even social networks have yet to pierce.

Oh if you ever do want to chat just connect with me on any of the social links on the blog. Who knows? Maybe we will both finally have someone to chat with!

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