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Are We Living a Virtual Life?

“Sorry, I am unable to answer your call. You are welcome to email me, text me, or send me an instant message. Also, you can always find me on Facebook, MySpace, or any other social network sites. If this is for professional purposes, then try me on LinkedIn first (my profile makes me sound much more important on there). If everything else fails and this is an emergency situation, then you can always follow me on Twitter!”

The greeting above may sound a bit witty, but it makes perfect sense for many people living in today’s tech era where majority of the communication takes place virtually. A few years ago, text messaging was associated with teenagers. Then soon enough, the tech savvy professionals figured it out. Followed by the wanna-be-young-parents who also thought it was cool. Then before you knew it, “texting” became a commonly used verb in the English language.

That was a few years ago. Now, the era has become much more complex with social network sites. These sites are increasingly attracting the attention of millions of users, many of whom have integrated these sites into their daily practices. Additionally, major corporations are making social networks a focus of their marketing programs. While the advantages of this booming new technology are undeniably attractive, people are becoming increasingly disconnected with the reality. It almost seems as if people are living a virtual life parallel to their real life.

Since when did people start having about five hundred plus friends on average? The world would be a much happier place, if having five hundred or so friends was a norm in this society. Better phrased, it is not the norm of the real society, but everything is possible in cyber space. Want to look like a model from the magazine cover? Easy! Just Photoshop your picture to perfection and post it on your profile. Feeling confident lately? Well don’t leave the “About Me” section blank when you can paint an ideal picture of yourself and let everyone see it. Recently broke up with your girlfriend? No problem, change your status to single and it will be on all your friends’ news feeds, along with a picture of a broken heart next to it. What a great way to let your single hot friends know that you are back in the market without actually announcing it and sounding desperate.

Virtual life has its perks; from general networking and giving voice to the public to communicating news and marketing for businesses. The increasing benefits and conveniences of social networks have caused individuals to become attached to it. Additionally, people are also attached to social networks because it is much closer to the type of life desired than the type of life actually lived. It takes less effort to craft one’s desired image in the virtual world than actually work for it in the real world. This is not implying that the information communicated on social networks is false. In fact, it is probably true and this adds to the countless benefits that these sites offer—they help individuals express themselves in ways they are limited in real life, thus, opening up doors to professional and social opportunities. Nevertheless, one’s self-expression on networking sites, even though it is truthful, is self-biased. People selectively communicate on social networks, filtering out the less desirable information. Kind of like a resume, people put their best out there. When living one’s virtual life, individuals tend to feel a lot more satisfied and happier than they actually are because they are living a self-selected perceived life absent of the undesirable traits. This satisfaction with one’s virtual image causes people to become attached to their virtual self. Consequently, this satisfaction along with other conveniences of social networks, translates to an average user logging on a half-dozen times a day and spending hours per week living one’s virtual life—a life where finding a job, house, or a soul mate are all possible with a mere click.

Companies who have been Web-conscious have picked up on this phenomenon and are expanding their marketing programs to focus on social networks. Additionally, as print advertising revenue declines, news organizations must look to new channels to drive sales. As the traditional world digitalizes, people are becoming increasingly disconnected with the reality. While spending hours in cyber world- working, reading news, networking, or living a virtual image, people become detached to their real life. The trick to social network sites is to use its benefits to one’s advantage without crossing the fine line between virtual and real. Consider the line crossed when the importance of living a virtual image is cutting into the time one should actually be living a real life and talking to actual friends in person, you know the old fashioned way of communicating. Ultimately, real life is what’s existent and virtual life can easily be deleted with a mere click as easily as it was created.