5-Star Restaurant was the venue. They had finally fixed a real meeting after months of uncountable virtual meetings.

Four months before that day, they had chatted endlessly; discussing issues both relevant and frivolous. They had dilly-dallied from fashion to sports, from education to entertainment, from politics to religion and other sundry matters. Their online chats both on Facebook, Whatsapp and BBM have been very interesting. Sometimes, they chatted late into the night and on some occasions to the wee hours of the morning. Her flurry of words as used in her Facebook status updates had enchanted him; she had this knack for concocting some grammatical Edika Ikong. A click on his screen and a counter click from hers and pronto, they became friends. Days, weeks and months of endless chats, comments and posts on each other’s timeline had given birth to this day. From their meeting in the virtual world, he had an image of her as one boisterous fellow and justifiably so. The way she threw jabs with spontaneous ease was enchanting. Her gaiety and amour propre as perceived from her poses were enough baits to consider her a bold fellow. She took on issues with articulate mastery; a verve for which only veterans are known.

At the restaurant that day, she was a different person. A complete departure from the image of the boisterous friend he had of her. This enchanting, intelligent and romantic girl of the virtual world became a shy, timid and uninteresting person in the real world. After their initial friendly banters, there was virtually nothing they talked about again. Their meeting table became like a condolence arena; no sound, just looks. On his part, he noticed how words failed him. How uncomfortable he became after the first two minutes. He longed for them to return to their virtual world where they never got tired of themselves; where they spent hours chatting.

The world is undergoing a most unfortunate paradigm shift. The area worst hit by this trend is the very area that is central to our sense of human existence. It is the world of reality, where personal encounters between humans are made possible without any form of mediation, be it from the internet or other online portals. But we are hastily vacating this world of reality. Today, majority of human relationships have been transferred from the world of reality, where they involve personal encounters between humans, to the virtual world of the internet and other online platforms where personal encounters are either ruled out or vastly different. At present, there is hardly any human activity that cannot be accomplished with or without the physical presence of the parties involved. Do you want commerce or other business transactions? Online shops are there to take care of that. We have online dating sites, just like we have e-banking. Universities now offer many courses online; whole degrees can be earned without ever stepping foot into a classroom. Facebook pages, 2go, Twitter, Instagram and many other sites have created an entirely new cultural paradigm by transforming the nature of human relationships. Even church activities are not left out as varied online fellowships now exist.

Whether this current development is good or bad is not the thrust of this writ. The real gist is that undergirded by a radical individualistic culture, the real world is fast losing its appeal. As the short story above illustrates, many people now find it hard to live in the real world. Humans now relate more with technical equipment than with fellow humans. In fact, there are so many proxies and technical bureaucracies making real life encounters between humans very difficult. And this is where the problem lies. Genuine human relationships are gradually fading; where they still exist, they are at best shallow, lacking in depth. The internet provides mediums where people can portray themselves differently than they actually are. The virtual world provides cover for people seeking to “be somebody else”. Unfortunately, beneath that cover, sometimes the “real” person is completely different – or even worse. But the virtual world rarely allows us a glimpse of the real person.

But we really have no choice in this matter; the virtual world has come to stay. In fact, it has become so indispensible that the world can no longer do without it. It has opened our eyes to a world of limitless human possibilities. Hence, we are losing our ability to live and thrive in the real world – the one of actual limits. And this is where psychologists must watch out. The greatest challenge that will face psychologists in the near future is that of getting humans to accept and feel comfortable in the world of reality. 

We are currently missing out on the kind of intimacy the real world offers. We are becoming more isolated and estranged due to our reliance on technical devices. Despite the quick and immediate connection that modern technology offers, our world has remained more divided than ever. We now prefer phone calls and chats to meaningful personal discussions. This situation brings many dangers. Not only are we more likely to feel lonely, but we are less likely to look at our fellow humans with empathy. The world has become hardened to violence because of our steady exposure to it online. When was the last time you shed tears for the tragedy and misfortune that befell a friend or for the countless incidences of death caused by terrorists’ attacks – or has the world become devoid of tragedy? Of course not! Tragedy is still feeding fat on humanity. We are just more removed from it due to technology. Tragedy has lost its human element. Empathy has been banalized! Zamfara deaths. SARS killings. These are just mere statistics added to the usual numbers.

I seek to call our attention to what is fast eluding us. I hope to possibly challenge us to reclaim our basic human elements. I want you to make seeing your mother, father, brother, sister, wife, husband or friend a top priority. I don’t mean placing a call or sending messages, i mean seeing them so you can have that human feel and touch again – hug them, touch them and kiss them. We are human beings. We need to be able to look into the eyes of those we love and savour the sweetness of their presence. We need to see them smile or express those fragile emotions. We need to always remember that there are emotions that phone calls and chats will never allow us express. Just get up and be on your way. Let us reclaim our lost world – the real world.

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