When the virtual world is more important than the real world, society has a real problem

Society is changing. It’s actually doing it every year, every month and every week, so it’s not something new that we can say is going to be a novelty at this point. But where is it changing to?


If someone could see us from very high up, but not see what we do or what we are, what we build or what we execute, but only what we think as a huge mass of energy that is shaping what humanity is managing to co-create, they would possibly realize that there are social dynamics that are always going in various directions, but united by a common thread that seems to move our civilization in a certain direction.

Determining that direction and then being able to analyze the key elements of it is what would give us the opportunity to be able to say with some objectivity where the personal, social and collective growth and development of our species is heading. Are we growing in social consciousness? Are we kinder to each other? Are the peoples of the Earth helping and assisting each other more? Can we say that we have become a more humane or colder, more distant or more artificial society? Can we change the direction of our growth if we knew how?

There are many questions, as usual, and the answers are not always obvious or within the reach of the individual analysis we can make by looking at the political, economic or social events we can gather through the media. We need, therefore, to extrapolate the social and cultural dynamics that have been going on since previous years, and look for data that will allow us to verify whether we are really going to continue along the same path, or change course in some aspect.

We are social beings

Possibly we have all already assumed that technology is greatly changing our perception of reality, of how our lifestyle is being transformed by situations of isolation such as that caused by Covid-19 and by the transformation of our urban environment, and by changes in the economy or in geopolitics which, whether we like it or not, have a great influence on any analysis of the development of society at a psychological, evolutionary, human and collective level that we can make of the current situation and its development in the medium term.

Starting from the premise that human beings are friendly, rational, collective and emotional by nature, what perspectives are opening up with a strong accent and a high degree of impact on the way we behave towards each other?

Undoubtedly we are becoming much more introspective due to the use of mobile technology, because for years now we have been talking much less with the people around us, and even with our partner, we do have a cell phone nearby with which to consult anything from any app at any time, whether we are at home or in a restaurant having dinner and celebrating our anniversary. We no longer ask for directions on how to go somewhere to the locals of that place because Google Maps tells us without problems, and, in general, we no longer need to talk to almost anyone to get almost anything because we can fill out forms, place orders online or send emails that often replace the role of direct conversation for the vast majority of things.

Like everything else, we are not going to assess whether this is positive for us or not, everyone uses and applies technology and the conveniences it offers us as they see fit, but it is a bird’s eye view of the fact that, in the social sphere, more and more of us are people secluded in our own particular universe with no greater interest in the particular universe of others than what is strictly necessary for daily coexistence, work or family obligations. For the rest, the cell phone usually takes care of it.

From physical isolation to mental isolation from the world

In this way, society becomes more closed and less willing to embrace exchanges with other members of the same, already complicated with a collective psychosis to infect us by the transmission of viruses, which affects all areas and mechanisms that make it work and leads us to depend more on technology than on our own psychology to be able to sense or deal with someone about something. Emoticons on WhatApps, Telegram or Signal say much more about our mood than our facial features or how we have our eyes that day when we have woken up a little apathetic or down.

Therefore, this trend does not diminish, but rather increases with each passing year and with each technological advance. It is curious that what is designed to make life easier for us is also making us live life more isolated, something that tends to go against the nature of how human beings have functioned throughout history. It is not that we cease to be social animals that know how to cooperate in large numbers and efficiently, it is simply that as soon as we can avoid this relationship with the rest of our fellows, we look for opportunities to do so.

Dealing with our fellow human beings is not always easy

It is possible that the responsibility for a large part of this situation lies with the psychological systems of the human being and the fears that these interrelations with others may harm us in some way. Sometimes it is not easy to deal with strangers, to make them understand what we want to say or need, we do not feel like putting up with the mood of others and much less having to be behind them to solve or finish something, so it is quite understandable that we prefer to do everything more anonymously, more technologically and with less stress than human interaction sometimes causes. Like everything else, there are degrees to which a relationship with other members of our species can be even toxic, psychologically and energetically speaking, while at other times they can be a balm of relief, encouragement, support or assistance.

But if the tendency is to move towards our personal world with greater assiduity, and this tendency begins to develop from the first years of life as it is increasingly difficult to make friends in childhood that last into old age, also in the social sphere there is more reluctance for peoples, societies and countries to maintain certain bonds of friendship or brotherhood beyond the simple title that our cities can exchange with other cities with which “we get along” or “we like each other”.

Currently, many peoples are at odds with other peoples of human civilization, sometimes over natural resources and raw materials, sometimes over ideologies, religions or cultural conflicts, and these do not diminish, nor do they fade with time, but cyclically arise here and there throughout our geography as if a hidden hand was lighting fuses and conflicts wherever it was in our interest to manage interests that perhaps most of us cannot understand or do not even know that they are at stake.

Has the human being really grown internally?

So, returning to our questions, are we more conscious now, are we more developed at an evolutionary level than a year, three or twenty years ago? In general, what is noticeable is that we maintain the same level of understanding of how the world, reality and the universe in which we live works. It is difficult for us to advance not only in scientific knowledge, but above all in human, psychological and even spiritual knowledge, which is a facet of the human being that, although it cannot be measured in any way, is still present in the lives of all of us.

This “moral” section, moreover, included in all the beliefs and systems of all the countries of the world, becomes important when it comes to decoding how we appreciate other humans for what they are and what they do, beyond what they have or the social position they hold. Few people usually find a way to see their fellow human beings more deeply than through the title or social class with which they present themselves to the world, and they immediately create thousands of completely subjective judgments about something or someone simply because of the way they look, the way they appear or their public image.

There is, at times, eons of distance between what someone shows and how someone really is, as we are masters of disguise in outwardly public behavior that allows us to accommodate the mask of our personality that suits us at any given moment to deal with the situation we are facing. Therefore, we make judgments and criticize, give opinions and speak without having in almost all cases real data and knowledge of the why of something, the how of something or someone, and the what of that something or someone. With this, we forge our own ideas and mental archetypes regarding the situation of the world, the life of the neighbor or the neighborhood baker, while, in reality, none of these elements are or perceive themselves as the rest of the environment may be imagining them in its inner version of the same.

Thus, society is becoming more and more individualistic, enclosed in the virtual world that mobile technology offers us. If we increasingly give our opinions and analyze others from a biased point of view that gives us a partial idea of others and we find that we understand each other less and less, it seems clear that the dynamics of the coming years will increase this reality and turn us even more into what we have been creating for some time: a world in which there is a lack of help and assistance from one towards the other, a world in which there is a lack of understanding of others and a world where everyone prefers to go about their own business rather than dedicate a little of their existence to assisting others.

On the street, there is often no shortage of help

On the other hand, it is also true that if someone with this bird’s eye view of the psychological and evolutionary lines of humanity were to investigate a little more in detail, going down to “street” level and trying to find examples of what we have just said, he would doubt our conclusions, for he would see people helping others to cross the street, he would see children handing a few coins to someone in need, he would see people saying good morning to each other as they pass by, and he would see someone kindly taking a product from the top shelf of the supermarket where another person in need cannot reach it.

And then, after this vision, one would ask, what is wrong at the macro level that is not wrong at the individual level? How is it possible that, in general, there are many situations in which we can see that human beings are kind, friendly, empathetic and eager to help while, then, we see that society is going down paths that point to the opposite?

Individually, in general, we all fulfill our role as good people when we have the opportunity to do so, we do not refuse help to those who ask for it, and we tend to collaborate with others when necessary. But we always set a limit, and we always do it if it is good for us to do it at that particular time and in that particular situation, and nothing else. Only when it fits perfectly with the schedule, the agenda of the mobile, and we are not interrupted by any other action that keeps us within our particular universe, is when we dare, and we usually, spontaneously, do small actions that serve to help others.

First the real world, then the cell phone messages

This should be the other way around, we should live life in a natural, social, shared and collaborative way, and we would get into our virtual world of the small screen only when there was nothing to do in that first way of living, but we do it the other way around, we raise our hand to give a product to someone who cannot reach it or we help someone to cross the street only if we do not have to send any message, we do not have to read some article on the mobile or we do not have to check the status of our social networks. There, then, we are no longer social, kind or collaborative beings, basically because we disappear from the world isolating ourselves in our particular universe and we don’t even see who needs a hand when passing by, and, for this reason, at a macro level you perceive this social dynamic and at a micro level sometimes you can see that sometimes it is like that and sometimes it is not. It’s a matter of how much time you spend observing human behavior on a small scale and how much time you see the currents and analyze the dynamics to a larger degree.

This way of living is going to be really hard to change, because we have become addicted to running away from the world, because really the world “out there” doesn’t offer us much of what we need to feel comfortable in it either. But it is a psychological trap, because the world “outside the mobile” can be as we wish it to be, and we forget that we have the power through personal interaction with other human beings to alter and modify the reality in which we live if we do not like the way it looks now. Screens, distractions, marathons of series on Netflix, long hours pending Facebook and in general everything that the virtual world now offers us, and we do not say it is bad or good, is what causes the disconnection and “evolutionary” decay of humanity, without, on the other hand, we cannot deny that it is something positive to read a book that explains something to us through our tablet or watch a documentary that helps us better understand a subject through television. That is not the problem, but rather the priorities and what comes first in a person’s life, because first the virtual world has been consolidated as a reference to manage our life and then, if anything, comes the real world to rest our eyes and mind a bit until we can return to it.

It is a situation that we are very likely to see repeated year after year, since, in principle, and if nothing changes, it is a social current and cultural and behavioral dynamics that is growing and that will become more and more deeply entrenched at younger and younger ages.

Teaching our children to live differently

For this same reason, it is important that parents who are aware of these issues take their children out to live the “real” life, and we agree that many teenagers already use and need a cell phone to be part of the society in which they live, but it is possible that we can influence a little in the balance of both “worlds”, that we put the emphasis and strength on the enjoyment of the physical, the relationships between people, going out to do activities wherever we can, escaping from technology when we can and teaching them to use it as a tool to support the needs of their lives and not as a place of escape and retreat for the rest of their lives.

Parents, for our part, may have to re-learn to live like we did before cell phones existed and use them like you use your keys. When you need it, you pick it up, do what you have to do, and put it back in its place without worrying if two minutes later a new message has arrived or someone has updated their social profile. If we achieve this, a really difficult goal, we will be on the way to manifest at the micro level something that, little by little, depending on how many people join this way of regaining control of their reality and human interaction, has to manifest at the macro level as a better understanding between peoples, cultures and societies, without falling into the naivety that everything will be solved at a stroke and no war will ever happen again, because it would not be true, since many other interests are at stake in these scenarios. Still, it would be a first step and a huge achievement if at least some of the time we spend in our virtual inner world could be transferred to the real external world. Let’s at least balance the scales, and then we’ll see how to reorganize the rest of society accordingly.

By the IDHUS Institute

The Institute for the Development of Human Societies is a think tank shedding light on the complex interplay between demography, human development, the impact of technology on society and global population dynamics