elations where people are not actually present but communicate or exclusively interact using internet, cell phones or other communication modes are termed as virtual relationships. It can be simply understood as e-relation. Literally, it does not mean an actual relation and rather develops out of a constant contact with strangers via social networking sites, dating or matrimonial sites, constant phone calls, chatting, texting, etc,.
With the advent of mobile phones in 2004, the Kashmir valley partially transformed into a virtual community of transitional nature. Social networking addiction specifically with Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo Messenger, etc, among teens, youth and even middle-aged became an ideal hobby and a culture of everyday life, thereby shaping up a distinct peer and youth culture and leading to the emergence of new dysfunctional relations developed through such a enticing media.
Speaking sociologically, the advent of the tempting modes of communication technology, extra leisure and disposable income available to youth, lessening family regulations, the craze for and possession of the latest and smart communication gadgets is treated as a status symbol, changing mindset, widening choices and breaking fiber of religious and moral ethos and emergence of a regulation free online society actually created virtual atmosphere as well and thus facilitated the virtual relationships.
Moreover, such relations are perceived to be free from any moral binding. That is why it becomes easier to open up to one another easily and share or talk about anything. However, such trends can have serious ramifications as connecting to anonymous people can lead to cyber offences, crucial information loss to hackers, moral degradation, economic thefts, security issues, etc, that can spell doom.
Psychologically, virtual relationships are purposive in nature. For some, it is a medium that enables an individual satisfy his/her ego and sooth ones anxiety resulting from the suppression of various instincts, particularly those of libidinal. For others, it is a medium to execute one’s aloofness. In one way, it satiates (though fallaciously and temporarily) a person’s love and belongingness needs and helps him or her to give vent to the pent up feelings and emotions whose repression may otherwise lead to various psychological problems. In other way, it gives rise to various anti-social, immoral and unethical psycho-social pathologies.
Virtual relations are not actual interpersonal ties as generally perceived and thus endow hollow sociability, temporary and unreliable support and often damage the real life bonds as people even tie communication and emotional loops to unknown people and thus suffer ultimately. Though such networks enhance people’s friendship and relationships even without geographical boundaries and enable people find love partners and sometimes may give rise to real life kin bonds, but they can’t produce true and reliable relationships in reality.
Today, when relationships begin online and romantic love relationships, friendships, online chatting, intimidating (bullying people via social networking sites), etc. have taken the virtual route, the trends like phone dating, phone sex, night calling habits, etc. have increased multifold and thus led to a distressing social, cultural, moral pathologies. The alarming question that begs an answer at the end is this: Are virtual relationships proliferating at the cost of real relationships? And what can be the shape of kinship and friendship carved out of the emergent virtual edge?
(Adfar Shah is a doctoral candidate of Sociology at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Mail at [email protected]).