“Something has gone wrong. Very wrong. And we have to fix it.”
A very dramatic opening line in an interesting article written by Sophia A. Nelson entitled Why Don’t We Talk Anymore? Although the article is a few years old now, the content still has relevance within the vast digital ocean in which we try to swim. If that wasn’t enough Ms Nelson hits pretty hard with the first paragraph…
“We simply do not talk anymore. We text. We e-mail. We post on Facebook. We tweet on Twitter. And it is destroying our ability to effectively communicate in our work relationships, in our marriages, in our dating life, in our relationships with our friends, kids, nieces and nephews, with our parents, and our siblings.”
I’m lucky enough to recall owning an original Nokia 3310 which could only make calls, text and allow me to play a state of the art 8-bit game called snake. It’s fair to say we’ve come a long way since then, but never forget we are still figuring out how to navigate technology assisted, social interactions.
According to our best estimates, humans have been mulling around on this rock for approximately 200,000 years and during that whooooooole time digital based social interactions emerged in the 1990’s/early 2000’s. I’m no maths genius but this means the existence of social media makes up roughly 0.005% of the collective human experience. It may not feel like it, but we are all infants taking our first steps within a digital world and we are still learning how to understand the benefits and consequences of social engagement, in a totally new landscape.
Although there are differences, there is still some common ground between the physical and the digital, whether you meet a significant other through Tindr, Bumble, Zoosk, eHarmony, Match, speed dating (remember that?) mutual friends, at a bar, at work, on the train or through common interests; we all set out to make lasting first impressions to showcase the best of ourselves.
My relationship skills were crafted and honed in a time when social media was in its infancy; this put me in the delicate situation of having to directly withstand the shockwave of acceptance or rejection. If I had more opportunities through technological assistance, it would have been far easier to send a direct message, not have to memorise a phone number or swipe my way to a perspective dinner date within a two-mile radius.
The short and long-term connections I formed were clumsy and accidental; I couldn’t have used an app even if I wanted to because my instinctual reactions were grounded in a real world environment, which never allowed time for premeditated criteria to develop. I thrived best in the physical, multi-sensory real world because that’s how I triumphed and failed within the rules of seductive engagement.
Using technology to attract a person is an instrument I never really learned to play, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the sound. Had I been born the year *NSYNC released their self-titled debut album (1998, for anyone who cares?) this would be a very different post because I would have been able to hone my craft with digital tools at my disposal.
I don’t think we’ve stopped talking, although technology has assisted in putting us in a space where we don’t need the crutch of dialogue to prop up communication. It is totally okay to be in good company without needing empty words to fill in the silence.
Sometimes there is a tendency to romanticise the past; remembering the “good ol’ days” through a soft lens, but every era comes with highs and lows…right? Perhaps there was a formalised courtship process in days gone by; a set of rules a man would abide by in pursuit of a lady. Meeting the parents, walking your date back to the door, paying for the first meal but these are malleable concepts that can still be applied, even today!
This is not an attempt to dismiss the experiences of Sophia Nelson, yet I didn’t want to be so easily seduced by the body of her writing style. I thought I’d go out into my own reality and observe the state of play. I was in London’s Hyde Park over the bank holiday weekend and objectively witnessed an eclectic mix of couples; old, young, gay, straight, athletic, obese, tall, short, black and white engaging in genuine face to face “old skool” conversation.
It’s an undeniable truth, we are increasingly using messaging services, e-mails and texts to communicate, but I’m not sure if that spells the end of human interaction as we understand it today, simply because technology has given us more options to utilise.
Are relationships really any worse now than in the past? Was communication between people better in 1918 than 2018? I don’t know…but what I do know is I don’t believe our species is doomed due to the symbiotic relationship between the physical and the digital. It’s not how we ignite the spark it’s how we sustain the fire because that’s where the real work begins.
Until next time.
Illustration by Jeff Ostberg. No copyright infringement intended.