When the Dutch Queen made some denigrating comments about the internet and social media in her Christmas speech, it elicited a barrage of protest on the internet. Are the technological developments and social media the cause of individualization as Beatrix stated, or do they generate more human contact?
On twitter the topic generated interesting discussions. In a letter to the Queen, ‘Off-license girl’ Petera de Boevere wrote that social media are in fact combating isolation: ‘People call help lines if chat contact is offline for too long, they find like-minded people and have real new contact.’
Living on Curacao I have noticed that the contemporary technical possibilities do lead to more contact, whereby distance is irrelevant nowadays. This can have a significant positive impact on feeling being balanced and having a grip on your life. Friends who live abroad get their children to talk to grandma and grandpa via Skype. Sometimes, the grandparents even read a story to them before bed… More often than when everyone lived in the Netherlands!
People also help one another via twitter. Off-license girl: ‘Recently there was someone walking down the street in Roosendaal, crying, because he had got into the wrong train and couldn’t get home any more. Tens of people tried to find him a place to sleep through their networks. It’s like the nativity but then 2000 years later.’
Like the Queen, I used to find all these network sites and social media stupid. Something for people without real friends, too much time on their hands, living in their own little worlds. But three months ago, just before my book was published, my publisher thought I should have a twitter account. Reluctantly I succumbed.
First I looked at what others were twittering about. There were a few distinct groups: