I’ve always been fascinated by the way science and tech have a tendency to impact social dynamics particularly when it comes to social media and social platforms and our way of perceiving our online following as a fan base rather than a friend base.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have a tendency to encourage us to pursue an “online self” which may not always correlate to our offline personality. The way we chat online differs greatly to how we would regularly converse in person and what’s more, we’ve come to a point where much of the way we interact with real life aspects is dependant on the reactions we receive in online space. I’m trying to think back to a simpler time when I didn’t use the web to chat to friends, or post photos. It feels like so long ago, it actually feels like this time never really existed, but it did. Our perceptions of people came at face value, we never met friends and rushed to stalk their online profiles to see if their likes and dislikes matched up with our own, or if to see if we knew similar people. We relied on the simple act of conversation when it came to that.
Times have definitely changed and what I particularly take issue with is the way we gaze at each other as if constantly through a filtered lens. Our appreciation for the realities and flaws of life diminish because they are so easily recreated with a simple filter and punny caption. While I am certainly not judging those who do this, (everyone has these tendencies nowadays) I do find it interesting how this is the way we live our lives on a daily basis. I decided to look deeper into this issue since it’s so easy to sit back and patronise people for succumbing to apps and selfies. Why is this a necessary component to living in the 21st century and how has it become so intrinsic to the point where the word selfie was added to the dictionary?
The answer in most cases, from what I’ve seen - relies heavily on a subconscious want and need to feel validated by our so-called following. Which, when you think about it, is quite hilarious. We’ve come so far in that smartphones a) exist and b) fit in our palms (most of the time) yet our basic human need to feel like we belong has remained the same, and on some occasions has increased tenfold provoking anxious behaviour and a constant need to feel included.
While social media was created for the purpose of interconnectivity we have a tendency to use this as a means of exclusivity, ironically going entirely against the grain of its’ original purpose. In some cases, we use Facebook to get in touch with The Friend From France We Met On Our Eurotrip, and yeah, we may chat to them on occasion and keep in touch. Interconnectivity was the real intention for social communication; however, we are more and more using it as a means of boasting a lifestyle or persona. Most of what matters now isn’t if you were able to chat to someone in a different time zone, but if that person in a different time zone thinks you’re cool and can further your street cred across the globe. I sound bitter while I’m writing this but I’m not, I’m just as guilty as everyone else for doing the exact same thing because that’s where we’re at: it’s completely normal now.
I decided to conduct a small social experiment with some friends. We were out to dinner and realised we would all subconsciously reach for our phones during every lull in the conversation, or while one of us was ordering some food. We don’t want to feel left alone, so we reach for our cyber safety blanket and hold it tightly as if sucking on our thumb for security like a toddler. So we decided one evening at dinner to put our phones face down in the middle of the table for the entire meal. The “challenge” was to go through the entire meal without looking at any notifications and carry out a proper in-person good old fashioned conversation. The catch? The person who reached for their phone first, would have to pay the bill for the whole table. Ouch.
Funnily enough it turned out that neither of us had the budget to pay for two so while we painstakingly made our way through our starters, by the time dessert came around we were laughing so hard at inside jokes we had forgotten about and left feeling so much more relaxed than we would usually. Our conversation was organic and real, which is not supposed to be a rarity, this is the way it always should be.
So how do we back pedal and bring us to a point of balance? Can a balance even exist at this point? How do we bring social media back to being what it was supposed to be - social. A means for efficiency by way of interconnectivity - the answer is in our behavior, in our interactions and in our fundamental values.
I leave this post with a challenge: I challenge you and your friends to go out for dinner and place your phones in the middle of the table,ringer off (vibrate on, in case of emergency). The challenge in this instance is to not check your phone until the end of the meal, whoever fails, must pick up the tab for the whole table - good luck!