Will Internet Interactions Ever Match Face-toFace Ones?


General Culture

Yesterday, I remembered an article I talked about on this blog five years ago. Back then, people were interested in “flaming” - why do people leave insanely nasty comments on other people’s websites? The answer came in the form of the “online disinhibition effect”: When you are in front of another person, some parts of your brain will prevent you from being a jerk. When you are not in front of another person, but your computer screen, those barriers fall. (more)

Now, five years later, social media are all the rage. Social media, we are constantly told, are the future of, well, everything. As an artist, you have to embrace social media if you want to survive. But can you survive even if you do that? I don’t think that’s quite so obvious.

After all, in any kind of social-media environment the same mechanisms that make flaming so easy operate as well. This doesn’t mean that social media are filled with insane behaviour (there is quite a bit of it, though). But even when considering normal interactions, “talking” to a Facebook “friend,” say, really is not the same as talking to a friend who is right in front of you. The brain operates in slightly different ways when there is an actual face in front of you, from which you can (and usually will) infer emotional responses.

I’m tempted to think that this must have repercussions for how well social media work. In particular, for artists this might mean that relying solely on social media - without adding any component that adds your face (or voice) back in - might be a serious mistake: Your interactions might be social in an IT sense, but they won’t be social in the old-fashioned sense (the one we used to think of before some geek decided to call all of these new internet sites “social media”). And that old-fashioned social - that has been developed and imprinted into our brains for thousands of years. A few years of social media won’t be able to do away with that so easily.

I have the feeling there might be some research done about this right now, or maybe it’s already published somewhere. But I think any artist operating online might want to spend some time thinking about this.