I was recently asked by the people of Channel 4 to write a piece for their Your4 site, and as I had far too much to say on the topic, this is the extended version. Hope you enjoy it, and feel free to share any thoughts on the matter with me.
Long gone are the days of a young man nervously approaching the home of the girl he wanted to court and chivalrously requesting permission from her father. A more familiar scene to the younger generations of today is being hunched over a smart phone, praying for a ‘match’ every time they swipe to the right. The phenomenon of dating apps like ‘Tinder’, have changed our generations attitude to dating by putting the emphasis completely on the aesthetic appeal of our fellow humans, and ignoring the longstanding traditions of building a relationship; bonding over mutual interests, the initial attraction and growing to appreciate ‘the little things’ that make you like someone and instead encouraging the concept of casual relationships and ‘hooking up’. Tinder has made dating into a game, people compete over how many matches they have and unashamedly use the app in public. Unlike traditional online dating sites like match.com or Okcupid, there’s no social stigma attached to the Tinder app, and this is part of the reason people are finding it so addictive. It’s a dangerous game to play though, spending so much time flicking through photos of strangers on your phone, rather than spending time with people in the real world. These online ‘virtual realms’ give you the feeling of ‘belonging’ for a short period of time, but as soon as you sign off, that feeling is gone and we slowly begin to realise we’ve been neglecting quality time with our friends and family, substituting them with our online followers.
Removing the complications of reality from relationships is by no means new to society. The revelation of online dating directly developed from the concepts of Lonely Hearts ads, the first of these dating back to 1695. These ‘personal advertisements’ were used to sell oneself to other singles, using it to describe your most appealing attributes and eligible qualities. Internet dating follows the same idea, but adds the extra challenge of finding the perfect display photo for your profile.
I recently read an article about a young man who was so frustrated that he couldn’t take the perfect ‘selfie’ that he attempted to take his own life. Obviously his issues ran deeper than his obsessive ‘selfie’ taking, but if it weren’t for our dependency to social media, his life might never have been plagued with this addiction. We’re all guilty of seeking approval on the Internet, whether that’s through the photos we upload or the things we ‘like’, we constantly seek the acceptance of our ‘friends and followers’. The problem is that we rely so much on the opinions of our virtual friends, we’ve forgotten about the real world. Houses around the country are filled with groups of people ‘socialising’ or, as it seems to be nowadays, sitting around on their phones telling the internet how much fun they are having, occasionally breaking the silence to discuss something hilarious they’ve seen on social media. With every aspect of our lives being shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr etc. it’s easy to see the pressure that puts on relationships these days.
Let’s look at celebrities for example, the majority of celebrity relationships struggle because every move they make is viewed, analysed and discussed by the media and in turn, us. Now, with social media, instead of discussing celebrity relationships, we’re discussing our own and those of our peers. Constant criticism and comparisons of other relationships, exaggerates our own expectations and makes us not only unsatisfied with our own experiences, but also unsatisfied with ourselves. They say that you can’t expect someone to love you until you love yourself, but in an age where the model for the perfect man, woman and relationship is shoved down our throats at any given opportunity, how are we expected to get to that point in our lives. What we forget is that these human ideals portrayed by the media are unattainable, the Photoshop perfected advertisements and the glossy overviews of the lives of the rich and famous, constantly fill our heads with unrealistic expectations.
Sadly, this attitude to social media means that our younger generations (including myself) are lacking social skills, only feeling confident when behind a computer screen or phone. Everyone seems to favour texts over calls as it involves no real human interaction and I will shamefully admit that when I’m at home, I often text my flatmate rather than walking the two feet to her room to talk to her, face to face. Social media has undeniably made our lives easier and it’s not something we should take for granted, but as a society we need to change our attitudes towards how we use it. Sherry Turkle, a Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT shares her opinions on this matter in her TED Talk “Connected, but alone?” Her thoughts on how we no longer have the capacity for self-reflection and how it’s stopping us from not only being able to relate properly to other people, but also being unable to relate to ourselves shares similar ideas to Bauman’s thoughts on Identity, if we spend so much time searching for a ‘persona’ that will help us fit into society, we’ll never be content as we will never be able to fully understand ourselves and who we are.
So, a word of advice to you all, put your phones down more often, lets rebuild our social skills and make social media less of a priority in our lives. We probably can’t live without it, but we definitely can live with less of it.
Natalie Whitton (March 14)
For those of you interested and wanting to know more, here’s a link to Sherry Turkle’s TED Talk. It’s absolutely wonderful and gives better insight into this topic than I ever could.