Online chatting, texting and social networking have become everyday tools for communicating with friends and family and for obtaining breaking information from across the globe in real time at almost no cost.
For many, chat and text messaging have replaced voice phone calls as the preferred means of staying in touch. Millions of people, on waking in the morning, feel their day hasn’t properly begun until they’ve turned on their devices to see what happened while they were sleeping.
Yes, chat is easier, faster, and makes some of us feel less uncomfortable when we are in an environment we want to escape and pretend we are not really there. We can just pick up our devices, retreat into the world of the smartphone or tablet screen, and ignore whatever is surrounding us.
Yes, it is undeniable that technology is extremely useful, but it also begs a question: are we relying on it too much? And just because we can use it anytime and anywhere we want, does it necessarily mean that we should?
“Mobile chatting is far less intimate than talking on the phone, not to mention face-to-face. This will make it difficult if you want to develop any kind of relationship with the person you are chatting with going forward,” said Dr Nattasuda Teaphant, head of the Center for Psychological Health and Public Wellness in the Faculty of Psychology at Chulalongkorn University.
“Personally, I think it should be the last preference if you really want to know a person.”
She is concerned that the effects of overuse of devices could be magnified in younger people who are not yet mature enough to make good judgements about when, where and how they should consume the technology.
The expectation of instant responses also has ominous implications, said Krisakorn Sukavatvibul, a psychiatrist from Manarom Hospital in Bangkok.
“The main problem is that it will certainly ruin the ability of people to wait,” he said. “They will get used to receiving things instantly. It can make them become impatient, harsh, less caring and less gentle in some cases.
“The use of body language and facial expressions can be spoiled, because it could be stopping them from interacting in real life.”
If everybody in the family is being drawn into their personal worlds and concentrating chiefly on their mobiles, it can be a threat to family relationships, he added. Less interaction, sharing and conversation will take place at the dining table or in the living room of the home, which is certainly unhealthy for everyone.
“Once these young people enter the world of employment, their inability to cope with human communication problems could cause trouble. The key message here is that they really need to learn to control their usage and how to use it correctly, only then it can help enhance their lives rather than damage them,” Mr Krisakorn said.
However, if used properly and creatively, social media and chat applications can have a positive impact on our social and emotional lives. They can open a gateway for those who are generally quite shy to start developing friendships online via the choices of many available chatting applications.
“What I have seen from time to time is that the use of the online world actually can help those who are less social to start building up relationships,” said David W. Anderson, high school psychologist at International School Bangkok (ISB).
“Some of them begin to talk more in real life and eventually have their own group of friends.”
Mr Anderson warned that the main concern is the number of hours each child spends with a phone as well as the content he or she chooses to discuss with peers or to consume individually.
Dr Spain Uneanong, a psychiatrist at Bumrungrad Hospital, prefers to hold a positive view of this worldwide megatrend, believing its benefits are greater than the drawbacks.
“I think it cannot be considered a bad thing, particularly if society lacks the availability of good activities offered for young people to participate in,” he said. “Without the use of this technology or chatting with friends on their mobile devices, some of them may end up joining with street gangsters.”
He said concerns about a link between heavy use of online social networks and people becoming anti-social in the real world are overdone. Most of the people who are active social media users are usually extroverts anyway.
However, the keys are to learn how to strike a balance in life and pick the right content that can be beneficial to the user. As long as we choose to communicate online, we need to make sure we remain in control of our real and virtual lives.
About the author
Writer: Nithi Kaveevivitchai