Aristotle once said that a friend to all is a friend to none. This prompted a thought; has the recent boom in social networking sites led to a lack of effort to form and maintain real relationships? In her talk ‘Connected but Alone?’ psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle asked whether, as we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other? Messaging friends through the various social mediums appears to be all that is really required of a friendship now.
A New York Times article, Turkle suggested that what we value most is control over where we focus our attention. Texting, emailing, Tweeting, and posting allow us to present the person we want to be in a controlled social environment. It allows us to give as much of ourselves away as we want, maintaining a friendship without ever having to get too close. We’re gradually entering a make-believe world where only the best is on show: our pictures are photo-shopped; our personalities are carefully thought through, only saying the wittiest remarks (inevitably researched on the internet prior to publication). Our desire to have relationships without stepping out of our perfectly presented bubble means that, in Turkle’s words, we sacrifice conversation for mere connection.
The effects of being able to edit, delete and recreate ourselves are already visible. Stories about people becoming depressed at the comparison of their real life with their friends’ publicised ones are not uncommon. Social nervousness is becoming a real issue for many people who feel that the social networking stage has set the bar too high on personalities. There are few people in this world who would be able to come up with something Facebook-status-worthy in a real conversation. How could anyone possibly compete with the allure of the iPhone with all that “enhanced socialising” right there their pocket?
Technology not only changes what we do but who we are. I received an iPhone for Christmas and I love it – it’s wonderfully shiny and I’ll never get lost again! Nevertheless, I now find myself more demanding of entertainment. Once very content to stare out the window swimming in my own imagination during a train journey, I find myself staring expectantly at the shiny little screen mindlessly tapping on different apps. We have come to rely on technology for amusement, and consequently, we have forgotten what real life and real human interaction can offer.
Relationships aren’t always interesting; they’re messy, complicated, confusing and, most importantly, the conversations happen in real time. Discussions are muddled, points are half made, forgotten and you only come up with the punchline to that joke two days later. That’s the beauty of them: they take effort and patience. My most significant relationship to date has had so many inexplicable moments, misunderstandings and bizarre conversations I wouldn’t know where to begin in recounting the story of “us”. That’s why I treasure it so much.
A much loved character in ‘The Simpsons’ said that the best ice cream is the hardest to scoop. I couldn’t agree more. For too long people have been picking out the cookie pieces and letting the good stuff that surrounds it go to waste. It’s about time we sat down, face to face, and ate the whole tub.