Often, we keep imagining how people and surroundings have changed, especially after so many years of being away from home. Hence, our expectations of what to see are clouded by the mental pictures we make of the situation.
Thanks to social media, keeping in touch with family and friends has become easier, thus reducing the mental exercise of figuring out what changes have taken place.
This is what I experienced during my homecoming trip to Ghana, in early July, 22 years after having been away from my country.
Staying in touch via social media has helped to cushion the shock of seeing people and surroundings differently after so many years of being apart. This was evident on my arrival in Kumasi, the city I was brought up in, and consequently meeting up with my family and friends. For instance, on arrival at the home I was brought up in, the surroundings looked different from 22 years ago but the fact that I had seen the area via video and pictures on social media, it did not come as much of a shock to me.
That was not all. On my various rounds of greeting family members, the first sight of them did not send any shock waves, thanks to social media which has made this possible. It is true indeed that technology, especially the Internet, after all, has more benefits than disadvantages.
Impact of social media
The impact of social media on politics, society in general, commerce, the world of work, training and development, and relationships cannot be overemphasised. One of the consequences of social media is encouraging people to form and cherish relationships.
Research has proven that social media use strengthens family connectedness, while at the same time negatively impacting meaningful interactions within families. Hence, as users, we should be aware of the negativity in order to stay away from it.
Despite the negativities, social media has many advantages. These range from connectivity, education, information and updates, and what have you. My own experience shows that connectivity is among the most significant benefits of social media as it links countless users, irrespective of time and place.
Whatever it is, information is power and, to reap this benefit, there should be a means of distributing so that people can harness its power. One positive impact of social media is in the distribution of information in today’s world. Platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, WhatsApp and others have made it possible to access and share information at the click of a button.
A world without Internet?
Imagine a world without the Internet. People would have certainly become farther apart. The saying “those far become nearer and those near become farther away,” to some extent, suits my situation living outside my home country.
Furthermore, we also stay informed about events happening across the globe and in our countries, in particular, using social media. In contrast to television, radio or newspapers, social media facilitates the conveying of information by presenting what is happening on the ground. This is evident in my case of living outside my home country.
Not only that, people have become more conscious from the use of social media. It serves as a channel for information, thus paving the way to innovation and success via developing their knowledge and abilities. Social media well covers global events, making people more aware of their surroundings and beyond.
In addition, social media is the best platform to express our feelings and opinions, especially with family and friends living in our home countries. In addition, netizens can let their creativity shine through social media, thereby benefitting others.
A double-edged sword
However, it still goes without denying that social media is indeed a double-edged sword. Both sides (good and evil) are sharp. Hence, despite the advantages, there are also disadvantages, including effects on social-emotional connections, causing distress to someone's feelings, lack of quality family time, cyberbullying, hacking, distracted mind, addiction, and relationship issues.
In my case, being away from home for so many years, I have always used the good side of the Internet to close the gap in family ties. All this while, leveraging on the facilities provided by social media, I had no big surprises upon my arrival in Ghana in early July of 2022.
My cousin concurred with me that the fact that we have stayed connected via social media, there are no big surprises seeing me, especially the way I look. I, on the other hand, could easily recognise my cousins and other relatives. With the available interconnectedness, the family bond is somehow maintained via social media. This is the manifestation of the global village envisaged by Marshal McLuhan, which is made possible by information and communication technology.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ali Salman is with the Faculty of Language Studies and Human Development, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan.