Communication may be faster, more convenient and cheaper than ever before but with that comes a new set of concerns. As of November 2018, Bangladesh has 30 million Facebook users with 86 percent of these users accessing Facebook primarily from mobile phones1. With a large part of the youth demographic actively dependent on social media, these apps dictate the communication norms of today.
A key design element of these apps is transparency, hence there is a pressure on people to reply quickly or else risk offending the other person.
CULTURE OF INSTANT GRATIFICATION
Tasneem Kashem, who teaches Psychology at North South University, says that in the modern age, people expect everything quick – we expect success quickly, learning a skill to happen quickly, promotions after starting a job quickly. People even expect to get to know their significant other very quickly after starting a romantic relationship. In the modern day people even want their food ready quickly (think instant noodles, frozen food, and fast food). This culture of instant gratification extends to communication too where people expect replies quickly when they text someone.
A new form of hurt can be experienced in the form of “seenzoning” when a message has been viewed by the receiver but not responded to. “Deliverzoning” is an even newer term when a message is delivered and therefore received by a person but not replied to.
Feelings of insult are common. Third-year private university student Cynthia Ahmed says, “I get annoyed when I am seenzoned seemingly without any reason. If I say something funny to someone, not being acknowledged for it hurts. I mean I tried to communicate.”
Social media makes things very black and white in this regard because when messaging someone, it’s very easy to feel an exaggerated state of self importance. Kashem explains that individuals don’t realise that the people they are talking to have other priorities as well besides replying to texts. She continues, “when we talk to a person in real life, we have a better understanding of them as a person. We see a person’s facial expressions, body language, mood, and temperament and can therefore better assess them.” When it is only back and forth messages on a screen, it is very easy to prematurely jump to the conclusion that a person is simply ignoring us by replying late when in reality they may simply be busy.
She elaborates that people often feel hurt or rejected when not responded to because humans have a tendency to devalue themselves. In circumstances where people have communicated with a person plenty through their phones but not as much in real life, people do not understand the other person enough and often end up misinterpreting their cues. “Talking to a person over the phone for a while does not allow us to know them like meeting them in person does.”
When asked what we can do to manage our reactions to late replies she responds, “We need to start respecting other people’s time more. We don’t appreciate the time people give us enough.
ADOPTION OF TECHNOLOGY IN BANGLADESH
Dr. Ranjan Saha Partha, Associate Professor at the Department of Anthropology at Jahangirnagar University says that in the case of social media, in Bangladesh we adopt technology that has been released elsewhere. As a result, we jump the stages of adjustment and accommodate new technology that didn’t naturally evolve in the local context.
As a result, we have a lot of adjusting to do. “There is also a big communication gap between people who regularly use such media and people who do not,” Dr. Partha continues. First-year university student Tazkia Islam says, “A lot of people aren’t exactly clear on what the norms should be on social media. Some people are often offended when they don’t get responded to in situations which does not warrant a response.”
AFFECT ON MENTAL HEALTH
Online communication often causes unhealthy mental responses on users in the forms of anxiety and attention disorder. People often experience anxiety in the constant wait for people to respond to their messages.
“When I am talking to someone and they don’t reply, I constantly keep checking whether they have come online. In such situations, I can’t keep my phone away from me until they do reply. At the same time, I also dread having real time conversations because that also often gives me anxiety. It’s a little difficult to understand,” says Cynthia.
Dr. Shahana Parvin, consultant at the National Institute of Mental Health believes that excessively relying on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and the like can affect our mental health and change one’s perception of the world and of themselves.“We start overvaluing ourselves and accepting the misleading view of the world as reality,” she comments.
She points out sufficient sleep is of utmost importance and using such apps till right up until before going to bed disturbs our sleeping patterns. Our brains remain on high alert from anxiety and other emotions as reactions to communication in the apps don’t relax the brain enough to fall alseep.
Dr. Parvin’s words echo a National Geographic study2 that reveals that the blue light emitted by electronic screens suppress the release of melatonin from our brains, a chemical that manages our sleep–wake cycle and soothes us into sleep. This cuts into sleep time for people.
Kashem says that when we meet a person in real life, physical interactions such as a hug or a smile is known to help reduce depression and stress. It gives people a sense of community and support that is healthy. Online communication can not help us in this regard.
With so much of a person’s information being displayed on screens being the norm, a lack of information can also throw people off. Nineteen-year-old Tazkia tells us, “If a guy does not have his last active information, delivery message and seen message turned on, I immediately think he is hiding something. A person I talked to didn’t show his information and turns out he was in fact hiding things.” Kashem explains that people are so used to having their information displayed that if someone wants to opt out of these features on messaging apps, people are not prepared to accept it.
Tazkia continues, “I considered it a positive sign that he was not too involved in social media. But turns out even that isn’t always a good thing.”
Social media has defined the communication norms of today whether we like it or not. Despite creating a new level of ease and affordability in communication, our messaging apps have introduced a new set of problems too.
1. Tarik, I. (2018, April 27). Demographics of Facebook Population in Bangladesh, April 2018. Retrieved April 4, 2019, from http://digiology.xyz/demographics-facebook-population-bangladesh-april-2018
2. Morris, R., & Hetherington, T. (2018, August 15). While We Sleep, Our Mind Goes on an Amazing Journey. Retrieved April 4, 2019, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/08/science-of-sleep
Mrittika Anan Rahman is a daydreamer trying hard not to run into things while walking. Find her at email@example.com