In the age of social media and technology, the concept of socialising has completely changed. Join Freya Petterson as she delves into the ways technology has shifted the standard for communication, connection and intimacy.
Last week I walked four blocks to the light rail, rode it three stops over and from there, walked another fifteen minutes so I could spend an hour eating pasta on the couch of a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I didn’t know I had anything I’d desperately been wanting to talk about, but it turned out I’d been keeping a mental list of funny encounters and embarrassing social faux-pas I’d been just dying to share with someone.
You know how before you’ve not yet fully committed to hitting the gym or going on a run and there’s a part of you that is unshakably sceptical this experience will be anything short of dreadful? You wonder why you’re voluntarily submitting yourself to sweat, muscle aches and spandex leggings? Then, when you’re five-to-ten minutes in, you reach the moment where you think: “thank God I made myself do this”. For me, choosing to catch up with friends instead of vegging out on the couch with some takeout and a book is a similar internal struggle. Until I’m actually there, laughing and socialising and remembering why I enjoy this person’s company, I could easily convince myself it won’t be worth the hassle.
After all, I’m kept well enough abreast of the social comings and goings of my friends through group chats and Instagram stories, I’m reliable enough in my texting back capabilities, I even manage a Zoom movie night on occasion. That’s being social, right? I moved from a share-house to a studio apartment nearly twelve months ago, and I’ve adjusted pretty well to spending most nights alone.
I don’t even realise how much I’m missing that ‘in the flesh’ social interaction until I’m in the midst of it, and I’m reminded of how much the online version pales in comparison.
We all want to be understood. Now that the vast majority of person-to-person conversation is performed online, via social media or messaging apps, responses can be carefully thought through and then even deleted and re-written. We think, and then we say. Logically, this should mean that conversations between friends and family can run more smoothly since people are given ample time to critically consider the words they are using.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Damn, I bet I would’ve had a really good comeback if only I’d had a bit longer to think about it”? Communication happening through timed exchanges, each one carefully curated.
So basically, what I’ve been noticing (and what other people have also been noticing, according to the articles I’ve read) is a breakdown in interpersonal communication skills, perhaps somewhat as a result of living in a society where communal, large-scale communication happens mostly over the internet. People are increasingly disconnected from each other, and loneliness is at an all-time high. It would be much too easy to pin this all on the back of “the internet”, however, in truth, the true culprit is not one thing, rather a combination of many things.
The way we approach communication is changing linguistically, culturally, and sociologically. Online instant communication allows for greater control over our written expression, as well as greater culpability for any perceived misspeak. Surely you’ve noticed how often a celebrity is ‘cancelled’ for decades-old tweets that aged poorly, let alone small-time blogs being ‘doxxed’ over inarticulately worded takes on current cultural issues.
Friendship as a whole is affected by this online mentality, the fear that being vulnerable is setting yourself up to be persecuted later on. When we’re paying so much attention to the way we are speaking that reaching out feels too risky altogether, there has to be something deeply wrong.
The way people talk about friendships nowadays is so devoid of love or empathy, so cold. You are not allowed to be sad or complain without burdening your friends with your problems. Helping a friend through a crisis is ‘emotional labour’ and we suffer under the weight of the reminder that “you don’t owe anyone anything”. What does friendship even mean if viewed through such a muddied lens?
I don’t care if you’re inconveniencing me by showing up without calling first or talking my ear off because you had a bad day! Inconvenience me! Take up space in my life! I chose to love and care for you, and I’m begging you to trust me enough to let me support you.
People often say “I’m not your therapist”, as if therapy is the answer to everything. What a sad world it is, where a paid clinician is the only one you are free to be entirely emotionally vulnerable with. This ultra-individualistic mindset leads to everyone feeling so very alone and isolated. We have lost all concepts of community and support systems.
People are lonely.
I think I come on a bit too strong sometimes when I jump straight to proposing sleepovers and movie nights, but at the same time I think this approach is still better than being overly cautious and missing out on the opportunity to genuinely connect with a potential friend in a meaningful way. We’re scared that we’ll be judged, and with the social media climate being what it is, this is understandable. It’s just not sustainable though. People are lonelier today than they’ve ever been, and to make any real headway in fighting this problem we’re going to need to be brave and put ourselves out there a bit more.