With all the technology that has come about to help us “connect” – to each other, to entertainment, and to information of all kinds – faster and with less effort than ever, it has become increasingly easy for us to detach ourselves from real interpersonal relationships and connections, instead replacing them with digital ones. Technology isn’t all bad though, its an important tool that helps us to make plans more efficiently, keep in-touch with distant friends and relatives, and it is the gateway to an unlimited wealth of information. It was even an invaluable tool in the recent uprisings in the middle east. But, as with most things, excess can lead to harm, and that is what I believe is happening as a result of our lives becoming more and more saturated with social media and technology.
Every Tuesday and Thursday when I hop on the bus from SE to downtown, there are strangely few people talking, despite the fact, that more often than not the bus is full and I find myself standing waiting for a seat. When I look around, more than half the passengers are listening to headphones, while the rest sit with their faces buried in their phones or some other electronic device, and maybe a book. The most noticeable sound is that of exiting passengers almost robotically thanking the driver as they get off the bus. The fact that the only real interaction I see frequently taking place between two real people in the same place at the same time is so passive and insignificant is to me a huge indicator of the way technology and digital media have started to rule the social sphere in a way that provides us the illusion of connectedness, while we are in fact quite isolated from the people who are quite literally the closest to us. Now I’ll be the first to admit to using my ipod on the bus, because sitting and waiting to be somewhere is quite boring if you have no one to talk to, and talking to strangers is one of the most nerve wracking experiences I can think of. There’s so much going through my head the first time I meet someone that I can hardly even remember their name for more than five seconds beyond their introduction, and I believe that it’s these feelings of anxiety that cause us to escape into our headphones, a nice safe bubble where no one will talk to you because clearly you can’t hear them.
We use technology to avoid and distract ourselves from these negative feelings and anxieties because its much easier to get out your smart phone, go to facebook and look at your “friends” status updates and pictures from a safe distance where you can think about what you’re going to say and even go back and edit it later, than it is to sit on the bus and avoid eye contact with everyone, too nervous to engage in a REAL conversation because you could embarrass yourself in front of some stranger who you’ve never met and will probably never see again. Though the lure of technology is undeniable (and life without it is almost unimaginable in the modern world) the fact that we use it as a crutch to escape certain negative feelings, means that we are not allowing ourselves to reflect on what those feelings mean. We would rather distract ourselves by looking at LOL cats or texting our friend like “OMG the guy sitting across from me is SOOO hot and he’s looking at me… what should I do?!?!?!?” than strike up a conversation and maybe actually meet someone new, and I believe this is a way of detaching ourselves from our surroundings, and therefore controlling our environment in a way which is ultimately unhealthy and limiting to our emotional development.
Facebook is great for a few reasons. It allows you to keep in touch, or at least check up on friends that don’t live in the same place as you and who might be hard to get in touch with because of conflicting schedules or whatever reason. Personally I like it because it functions as a photo album, something that has become pretty much a thing of the past since digitial cameras came around, but when I look at my News Feed and see what all my “friends” are posting, it seems like facebook is doing little more than turning some into lonely narcissists who sit and press the refresh button hoping that someone has responded to their most recent post, or at the very least given them the small satisfaction that comes from a single click of the “like” button. The essence of narcissism is having a grandiose sense of self, so I have to wonder… Are Facebook and other social networking sites not basically a platform on which one may build this grandeur? I think they are. Anything you post online is immediately visible to an infinite number of other people with whom you have varying degrees of familiarity, and whether its one of your close friends (from real life) who comments on your most recent post, or someone who you maybe met once at a party, the instant gratification of having a new notification gives the user a sense of connectedness and even importance to someone else. However it is largely an illusion.
No amount of facebook notifications and requests, or text messages or emails, could ever make up for having a real conversation, but we choose to engage in all of these digital interactions over the real thing because we are too afraid of the emotions we that real interactions make us feel, and its much easier to control and predict the outcomes of our online interactions, from alone in bed with your computer, than out in public with actual people. And the fact that even when we are alone, we are together doesn’t allow for much reflection. I think the result of this is a generation that is too so obsessed with connection and so afraid of not being connected, that we no longer understand the true nature of connection: closeness and intimacy.