By Tong Niu:
We live in a faceless world. Interviews are conducted virtually, classes are taught online, and conversations are held through short phone calls and 180 character texts. Outside of our immediate circle of friends and family, most of our relationships are built upon virtual interactions. The development of social networks and online worlds has drastically altered 21st century relationships. The impacts of these developments are both beneficial and detrimental.
A major revolution has occurred in the academic setting. Now more than ever, colleges and universities are offering online degrees. The University of Phoenix, the largest online school in the U.S., caters to over 380,000 students, according to the November 20, 2010 article in The Daily Sentinel. The second largest university in the U.S. has over 70,000 online students. Earning accredited degrees online allows you to take courses at a schedule that best fits your lifestyle as well as earn a higher education for work advancement opportunities. Unfortunately, while you are in control of the pace at which you learn, you lose that valuable connection and relationship with fellow students and professors. Learning from home also increases the chances of distractions and disturbances.
An even greater change has overtaken the dating scene. With thousands of online dating sites, it seems easier than ever to find the right partner. Matchmaker.com has approximately 8 million users, employing a comprehensive questionnaire and an optional essay to pair up its members, according to The Free Online Library. While many have found their soulmates on these sites, online dating also has its dangers. Just this June, Venkata Cattamanchi, a 35-year-old, was robbed and murdered by an arranged online date and her three accomplices, according to the Detroit Local News. Sadly, these horror stories are growing more widespread with an increase in the use of social networking and dating sites.
Lastly, there are the virtual relationships in the workplace. In June of 2003, Linden Lab developed and launched a program which allowed users to interact with others in 3D, virtual world. IBM and other companies have begun using this program to set up conferences with partnering groups. To save airfare and travel expenses, employees now meet with each other virtually. The program allows workers to work from home more often. It can also save companies considerable amounts in travel expenses. However, without that face-to-face interaction, workers cannot develop the social skills, like teamwork and good communication techniques, that are so important in the workplace.
The ever expanding online world helps us connect to our friends and family who are far away. Social networks, like Facebook and MySpace, allow users to maintain contact with ex-co-workers and old friends. It provides users with the ability to meet people who are continents away without ever having to leave one’s room. But these tools should not be used without thought to some of the consequences. Virtual world pulls users away from the real world. Social networks, online universities, and even online matchmaking sites are invaluable tools when maintaining long-distance relationships, but they must be used with care. If we are not mindful of the hours we spend on virtual relationships, we can potentially damage those even more important, our real-life relationships.