Emotion processing and communication on the Internet: sad and lonely despite mass?

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Social media - means of communication, self-presentation tool and trigger of collective emotions - the best example is the reactions to the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant. However, improperly used they promote loneliness. How to do it right?

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Simone Janson Simone JansonSimone Janson is publisher, German Top20 blogger and Consultant for HR communication.


Use online communication correctly or be lonely together?

There is no doubt that the Internet leads to selective perception and thus strengthens our tunnel vision. As a result, we sometimes feel terribly lonely despite company. We are lonely, so to speak - a term that the American psychoanalyst and sociology-Professorin Sherry Turkle.

It is about the fact that many people tend to replace complicated interpersonal relationships with easy-to-maintain online relationships: Turkle states that anyone who cannot resist this temptation will become more and more lonely. Sounds dramatic. But if you learn to use the right communication channel at the right moment, you benefit from the diverse possibilities of the mobile Internet.

Common emotion processing using the example of Kobe Bryant

The extent to which the creation and processing of emotions is subject to communication behavior on the Internet is always evident when something particularly tragic and dramatic happens and the general sympathy is huge - be it terrorist attacks or the death of individual celebrities. And these emotional mechanisms are used skilfully by media makers of all kinds to attract attention.

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A good example of this was the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant and his three-year-old daughter in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles in January 2020. The death of the sports icons triggered shock waves from sports fans in the United States, but it went even further from Kenya to China. Because Kobe Bryant was even better known worldwide and perhaps even more influential than Michael Jordan - in some circles he was considered the greatest NBA player ever.

How does collective grief express itself?

Joseph Hammond, a freelance journalist who has written for The Economist, Anthony Bourdains Parts Unknown (CNN), US News and World Report, International Business Times and numerous other publications in almost two decades, wrote about Bryant's popularity and lists some details of the worldwide participation from:

“The Los Angeles Lakers plan to put a statue of Kobe Bryant on Star Plaza, an area in front of the Staples Center where the figures of many Laker sizes are located. A statue of Kobe in his Laker uniform is already in front of the sculpture museum of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in China. Together with Yao Ming, Kobe Bryant played a crucial role in opening up China to the NBA. Kobe's death was also deeply mourned in Africa. Kobe Bryant was just at the beginning of the mobile phone revolution in Africa and is the face of basketball on the continent in many ways. "Africa is largely young, over 70% under 40," said Cynthia Mumbo, CEO of Sports Connect Africa and former manager of the Kenyan women's basketball team, in an interview with the author. Many of us grew up with the NBA action or an NBA game on Sunday. Kobe was a key factor in these games ... Most of the games were Lakers, Bulls, Magic games. The NBA is an important part of the games, and when Kobe was with the Lakers, we had so many with his image. I think we'll see a lot this week too. ' "

Creeping loneliness through mobile internet?

Back to Sherry Turkle, who has been researching the effects of modern technical development on our lives for over 30 years - initially euphoric, as she says, then increasingly critical, since she has noticed the rapid changes that an Internet brings that we always have in our pockets could carry around. In her book “Alone Together”, she warns of the creeping loneliness that communicative changes can bring.

Because the Internet, especially in the mobile version for handbags or trousers pockets, would always offer the opportunity to escape the complex interpersonal relationships of reality - just like the student, who would easily exchange her boyfriend for a robot as a lover to make the world easier and better. Or like colleagues who eMails or send a text message to the neighboring office because it would be too intimate for you to simply drop in there.

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The internet is changing interpersonal relationships

Important information and emotions that would be exchanged in a phone call or in a personal conversation were missing - and that is exactly why not only the communication changes, but also the interpersonal relationships as a whole. So says Turkle in an interview ZEIT ONLINE:

“You can have other relationships online. In a way, people reveal more of themselves. But they reveal what they want to reveal, not necessarily what the other wants to know! In a face-to-face friendship, a real exchange takes place. I've been investigating such chats since the early XNUMXs, and you know what: when things get uncomfortable, people pinch. There is much less commitment in relationships. ”

Now Turkle may be right about the fact that social relationships run differently on the Internet, namely more superficially, and that for some people there is a risk of losing their reality if they get too involved. In a study conducted in 2008, the medical doctor Shima Sum from the University of Sidney also showed that existing loneliness is very difficult to combat with social media, chats, forums and private messages. On the contrary: If isolation in real life first makes its way into the virtual social network, the lack of real friends tends to increase.

Don't confuse online intimacy with real intimacy

However, online intimacy should not be confused with real intimacy. And of course text messages on the Internet are more convenient than phone calls or face-to-face conversations. Because online communication makes it possible to be in contact with a large number of people and at the same time keep them more distant than would be possible, for example, on a telephone call, in which we have to be present in person and the voice - and that emotions that resonate - hear the other.

However, I cannot see what is wrong with the use of online communication. On the contrary, to be able to work efficiently, this filtering is even essential. Especially since Turkle also says about himself that eMails are also your most important communication channel.

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Your own controlled image in public

And many celebrities also use social media regularly to publicize an image of themselves that they can control. Journalist Joseph Hammond explains that the reason for Bryant's veneration had a lot to do with his own open communication behavior:

“His role as a citizen ambassador started early. Kobe Bryant's father Joe 'Jelly Bean' Bryant wanted his son to be recognized internationally. Kobe was named after the famous Japanese beef that his parents saw on a menu. He spent some of Kobe's formative years in Italy, where he used Jersey's number 8 for the first time. His father played in an Italian league for seven years after his NBA career ended in 1983. Young Kobe Bryant soon learned Italian and occasionally impressed guest reporters late in his career by answering questions in Italian. Bryant's path to global fame was certainly in Bryant's and the NBA's interests, but it also stemmed from a legitimate interest in other people and cultures. Thousands of American children, like Bryant, grew up in Italy - very few of them came to learn Italian. In fact, Bryant also learned to speak Spanish in Los Angeles - much to the delight of his Latino fans in Los Angeles and a skill that increased his marketability in the Spanish-speaking world. Bryant also learned some Serbian and French to unsettle opposing players or encourage teammates. ”

Those who know the rules benefit from several communication channels

This is also shown by a Dutch study by Patti M. Valkenburg and Jochen Peter: According to this, social media are excellent means of cultivating an existing circle of friends and presenting themselves to the outside world. So you have to differentiate. First, for the reasons how and why you use social media, but also for who you communicate with and why. Because of course there is a risk that you give in to your inner bastard and stay lazy at home instead of meeting people in person. But to condemn the internet as it happens in the current discussion about internet addiction seems to me to be the wrong way.

And while most people in real life often know very well who is friend, colleague, good friend or enemy, this distinction seems to confuse many people in social networks. I always notice that when people who don't usually meet up for a beer with everyone ask me uncertainly, "What do I do if I get a friend request on Facebook from someone I don't want to have as a friend?" The reason for the confusion is that although communication in digital spaces is public, it is often somehow personal.

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