By Vuthy Pisey,
During Pchum Ben a few weeks ago, I went to my hometown in the province to visit my relatives. It has probably been around five years ago since my last visit there. No doubt, a lot of things have changed. In the city, infrastructure, markets and tourist sites have become better and more popular after their renovation. The way people live and do business has been transformed from traditional to technological. However, what especially struck me was how technology has drastically changed the way they communicate in their daily lives. I was shocked by how powerful and addictive social media has become there. This is yet another case of how face-to-face interactions in the 21st century are losing out to social media apps like Facebook.
For the past five years, whenever I visited my relatives, my cousins, who are around the same age as me, would chit chat with me at night while we cooked and washed the dishes. We would talk pretty much about everything— our studies, favorite movies, food, family, work, etc. We laughed and cried together, showed our true facial expressions and shared our feelings on certain topics.
Sadly, this time with the existence of Facebook, everything has changed completely. My cousin-sister just said hi to me and asked me a bit about this and that, but her eyes were on Facebook as she scrolled down and texted. We just chatted for a few minutes, and then she went to her room and said, “We can chat on Facebook later on.” Meanwhile, my younger cousin-brother had no time even to say hi to me. His eyes were on the phone and his ears covered with his headset while he played PUBG, an online shooting game, on Facebook.
There was no interaction, laughter or expressions of emotion. This really shocked me and urged me to ask: Is this the way we communicate in the 21st century? Is social media a new drug for our communication?
I have talked to my aunty and uncle about the effects of technology and social media on their children’s daily life. As expected, the response was even scarier and more heartbreaking. They told me that nowadays their kids are always on the phone—looking at the phone while eating, laughing and talking on the phone till late at night, taking photos and showing off their possessions. Activities that were once commonplace, like chatting at the dinner table, watching movies together, doing house chores or simply chit-chatting have all been replaced by mobile phones and social media. Without these interactions in the family, my aunty said that she no longer knows what her kids are doing, thinking or experiencing. If she wants to know about her child’s well-being, she has to create a Facebook account, stalk their profile and keep up with their status updates, photos and check-in activities. How has our daily social life become like this? It scared and upset me to hear that.
Does what I have just described about the influence of Facebook on my relatives’ daily life sound familiar to you? Look at people around you and the way you communicate with your family and others. Are you always on the phone and ignoring the true emotion and connection with your family and friends? When you come back from school or work, do you talk to your family who have been there preparing your dinner and waiting to eat with you, or do you just go to your room and put you life on social media?
I believe that most Cambodian people now own at least one Facebook account. This account has a tremendous effect on people’s lives. Not all is bad. For example, more businesses are moving toward the online world. I was so surprised that nowadays people living in the province can get fresh homemade food by just making a call, and the seller will then call out the list of available dishes or even send the menu to you through Facebook’s Messenger app. You just place an order and then they will deliver the food to you right at your door. This type of business was not possible a few years ago. It is all thanks to the powerful influence of social media.
I don’t deny that Facebook or other social media platforms keep us connected, especially with someone who is far way. We can share memories with them, chat or call them from long distances, exchange information quickly and effortlessly, or even reunite with long lost relatives.
However, I would just like to raise up some thoughts for your consideration. What was the goal of using Facebook or other social media platform in the first place? If it’s to stay connected with your family and friends, then when they are here in front of you, why would you take the face-to-face interaction for granted and depend on the online communication, where you can’t know for sure if the emotions they show with the stickers are real. If it’s to share memories with your family, why would you give value to the photos taken for a short moment much more than the precious memories you would have if you spend time with your family, memories that you would remember for the rest of your life?
Everything has two sides —good or bad, drug or tool, depends on how you can control it. Otherwise, you will allow it to take control over you. Likewise, Facebook surely does provide you a lot of benefits if you know how to use it well. You can do that by keeping some key things in mind such as:
- Be online for a moderate time and leave time to spend with your family.
- Use Facebook only for functions that cannot be done or which would take a long time to do in real life. For example, if your family is there, you don’t need to wait to chat later on Facebook.
- Control how you use Facebook and do not allow its influence to harm your family, your health and yourself.
- Be aware of its damaging influence and take steps to stop your addiction to social media.
With the existence of Facebook, we are so close yet far apart from each other. Think about it again and honestly answer to yourself: can this virtual online interaction on social media replace the laughter, tears, and warmth of face-to-face interactions you once shared with your family? Let me know how you think social media has affected your own life and family in the comments section below.
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.