Well, some statistics might claim... a lot.
The wonderful thing about awkward silences is that they are socially transparent social oddities that have a way of bonding us together. They can lead to interesting stories, playful interaction, and even to a deeper conversation, if we let them. Whether we meet them with an "awkward turtle" (or rock, as the case may be) or plow through to the life moment that's waiting, most of our awkward silences are invitations rather than exclusions. We are not made socially awkward by awkward silences, but by the inability to navigate relatively simple social interactions.
Maybe awkward silences aren't awkward at all. Maybe they're functionally necessary. And it may be they're all but disappearing from modern life.
The reason for this problematic extinction? Social media and the resultant social mediazation of our culture.
Have you heard of the "movie" (and I throw up in my mouth a little to even call it that) that bashes Islam and Muhammad? Well, it went viral on YouTube, was pushed along by various social media outlets, and has resulted in the deaths of well over 15 people, the work of those claiming to be Al Qaeda. Of course, Al Qaeda and other extremists need no particular excuse to take life in the name of whatever god they espouse, and many before me have balked at the idea that the recent rash of killings were prompted by the... <gulp> movie. Action like that may not prove their god is anything more than flights of fancy, but they do prove--at least in this case--that social media has a power all its own.
Social sites have seemingly shrunk our world, and the time it takes to interact with others on the opposite side of it. Many can sympathize with me regarding the times they have filled those "down moments" of life with a quick glance at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the like, even if you only had one minute to spare, literally. I am guilty even of pressing the "pause button" on my times with my wife and son to inform my Facebook-world friends of the good time I'm having in the real world. Are you guilty of this too? We can chat with people from Canada and Singapore at the same time, all the while being utterly oblivious to the life that continues around us. Breathing the same air as us.
And still, we can claim to be bored.
Social media has definitely brought entertainment to our front doors or, rather, to our fingertips. We want to be moved to laugh or cry by what we see, or have others laugh or cry with, and for, us. A danger here is the world shrinking to the extent that we are the star of a show that's about us, and everyone around us is a day player meeting our needs. Of course, when our needs aren't met to our satisfaction, disillusionment and depression are surely waiting. Psychologists have noted that social media trends have actually made narcissism--excessive fascination with oneself--a danger for a greater segment of society than ever before. One group actually includes a self-assessment test for your own level of narcissism on their website.
There are very few things we can learn about another person in cyber space that cannot be learned better, and with relational dividends, when learned in person. It may take longer in person to learn of someone's horrible spelling or grammar, but maybe that's a plus. And without cyberspace we wouldn't be able to talk with people we'd otherwise never meet, and there is much we can learn by doing so. But maybe that's the key: social media should be a tool we use for growth, not a parasitic growth that turns us into tools.
What do you think? Does your use of social media facilitate face-to-face interaction with others, or substitute for it?