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How Social Media Keeps Us Together Even While Socially Distant

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We all have read many articles, blogs, news editorials, that talks about social media that drive us apart, glued to our phones unable to take our eyes off the scrolling screen in the late night. There is something that I feel people sometimes forget, such as right now in the middle of a pandemic. A time where we are in isolation listening to the radio, watching the television, or searching online to see when our state would say, "everything is open and back to normal." But we all know, there is no normal. What we have normalized, however, is the use of social media. We may use social media to talk to our grandparents that we cannot see in person due to a no visitor policy nursing home. One may use social media to speak to a significant other who is a nurse or doctor burning the midnight oil at the hospital. Perhaps, you might use social media during a religious day. What we as human care most for is companionship.

Thursday night, the three of us, my wife, our roommate, and I sat on a futon with a single laptop facing us on a single screen with multiple screens of our church's various community members, which was not the norm for us. We are usually all together under one roof, sharing a meal, and breaking bread around the dinner table, laughing, and sharing stories before our bible study. Tonight, that experience is shared virtually, using the software Zoom. It is a different experience, less intimate, but for some reason, it is always good to see another person's face, not just their faces, but their reactions, hearing and watching others laughing. One of the members shows their newborn baby in the camera to be a part of the experience of seeing how big he is now since his birth.

About 20 years ago, none of this could have been possible. Facebook reported their first quarter of 2020 results, which they mention that “Between WhatsApp and Messenger, more than 700 million accounts participate in calls every day.” Moreover, this is only for Facebook, in which the demand for real-time video has skyrocketed. They did not stop there; Facebook is even introducing Messenger Rooms, which users can “…invite anyone to join your video call, even if they don’t have a Facebook account” with up to 50 people with no time limit. Technology has brought us closer together as much as automating our work. It may not be the same face-to-face contact that we are used to, but it is another form of communication that we are adapting.

The odds that you and I use Facebook as a form of communication is quite significant. Facebook may not be the only use for communication. There are varieties of apps today to reach different or the same people in many ways. With the ease of use from our mobile devices from our pockets, to the many apps that our mobile devices hold, there are endless ways that we communicate that does not relate to a phone call or text message. Times of the electronic use was simple, where we only would send an email. Now, we have many options for others to use as their communication app. We take for granted the ease of usability with one platform, application, or even software technology, but we also take others for granted.

Facebook is not the only innovator of our time to help make the connectedness that we need most. Companies are popping up all over to help with alternative communicative forms. Companies such as Clubhouse, a software company, that launched in 2016 whose mission is to “ensure software development teams can do their best work” by proving a platform for collaborative project management for “teams actually want to use.” These companies have been around for a while, but now it is needed more than ever.

It is not only Facebook that connects us to establish a face-to-face connection. Google has also made a breakthrough with its technology from one-on-one to communicate with Google Duo to a multiuser product such as Google Meet. As Google would put it, "video calling is the next best thing to being with someone in person…" I would agree. The video call grants the emotion of a person without only the audio experience. This experience connects us to other human beings, the feeling, and connectedness we have for one another. We enjoy sharing the feelings of happiness or being there during someone's sadness and sharing the experience of grief with a newborn. Whatever it may be, we do not want to go through the experience alone, and we always rely on others for support.

As I am sitting here listening to one of the community members continue to educate us, a thought came into my mind on the current education system that everyone is going through. Education has made the turn to online as well for the students to keep up. The pandemic may have shuttered the schools, but that would not keep educators from what they do best. Companies such as Microsoft are trying to make our lives and communication easier with easing the burden of how we will communicate online. With products such as Microsoft Teams were “183,000 institutions — including individual schools, universities, districts, states and regions — in 175 countries are now using Microsoft Teams,” collaboration can still be organizing enough as if everything is normal.

Sure, maybe teachers do not have as much watch over younger students as they would in the classroom, but something is always better than nothing. Children, for instance, today are learning at a young age to use tablets and smartphones. I was born during a time where the internet recently became a public domain, so there was not any significant media, besides the television, to glue me to anything. Even with the TV, I could not pack it away into my pocket and finish watching 'Futurama' old episode on the go.

Back in the 90s, talking to someone on a screen would have been something that you saw in movies such as 'Back to The Future' or 'Star Wars.' Now, we are keeping up with friends and loved ones via our cellphones. Just talking on our phones or having online education is not the only thing affected here. Many events and conferences that people planned are canceled or rescheduled and getting refunds for it can become a problem for many customers.

However, the pandemic is not going to stop Apple, since their announcement of a virtual conference is coming in June. Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, can back up the claim. He stated that "[Worldwide Developers Conference] will be our biggest yet, bringing together our global developer community of more than 23 million in an unprecedented way for a week in June to learn about the future of Apple platforms”. These platforms are a feeling of connectedness of bringing people closer together in the event of importance.

The idea of virtual conferences felt unprecedented, but it was always possible. How would you keep so many people engaged? People may log in, but does that mean that they are paying attention to a host in the background while they tend to household chores? We are only in the middle of the year, yet we see that social media and other technology have a strong impact on how we communicate. The way we communicate will continue to change, evolve for good and the ease of use for everyone. We are virtually reaching out to one another, keeping each other in good spirits while virtually comforting one another.

Gone are the years where we need to take an expensive flight across the states to see other people face-to-face. Communication is a right that builds stronger communities for people that others may not have known before. We can post a time to meet up or have a digital social experience without having to meet up at all. A new era of building small businesses and having great innovations and designs comes to life without us being in the same state or even in the same country. Those who were here before the year 2000 may have had a different experience when it comes to communication. Today, it must be arguably the best age to have multiple ways to reach and talk with other people.

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