It is undeniable that technology has changed the way we view social interaction. In observing millennial culture, and one might be more inclined to believe that technology has negatively impacted our ability to connect and relate meaningfully with each other. Lean more towards Gen-Z and then you might be persuaded by the view that we are more connected than we’ve ever been before. Each generation utilises technology differently with the existence of vast differences between the ageing Facebook demographic and the rapidly increasing younger “TikTok generation”. With children gaining access to apps and phones as early as 7, it is clear that we live in an age where technology dominates all social spheres. The question I seek to answer is whether this means that we are more connected as a species and therefore more socially engaged or if it is that the definition of what it means to be socially connected has changed beyond recognition.
Undoubtedly, we are hyper-connected through a vast array of mediums which facilitate online communication, be it text, email, Instagram direct message (DM) or Snapchat. But surely, this sense of social interaction is shallow, with each interaction being simply one of masses. It seems as if social media has led to interactions being overly ‘hyped’ and almost performative, making our connections lack substance. We might have over 1000 Instagram followers or Facebook friends but realistically, only genuinely know and interact with less than 50 of these people. Such numbers are reflective of how pseudo-connected we really are, with distantly related mutual friends having more of a presence in our online life than our actual friends and relatives. However, it must be acknowledged that the internet has opened the door for like-minded people from all across the world to bond over shared interests. These online friends are examples of ways in which technology’s hyper-connectivity can add value to our lives. As with all things in life, it comes down to the individual user and how they choose to utilise their online platforms. I believe that there is a fine line between the more shallow, pseudo-connectivity and the somewhat more earnest hyper-connectivity.
The most valuable commodity of the 21st century (which companies compete for) is our time and attention. The more time we spend online, the more profit they make. Phones are almost an omnipresent force. It’s easy to convince ourselves that technology facilitates easier communication, however it also works the other way round - with phones making it easy to go ‘off the grid’ with quick texts, promises of FaceTimes, and calls replacing genuine interactions. Beforehand, where people had to actively meet in order to connect and discuss, we can now do this from the comfort of our own homes. I believe it has made us lazier as a generation and less committed with our plans. The very definition of the word “connected” has altered, with it having more implications for online connectivity than in-person interactions.
Even when we do take the time to meet in person, the issue of ‘mass preoccupation’ means that our social courtesies have more or less disappeared. In social situations, we become easily bored and I find it strange to think that when we are at events with people, we still choose to reach out and try and communicate with other people who aren’t there. For example, one could be at dinner with a friend and rather than devoting all their time and attention to the person they’re with, they absentmindedly check for text notifications on their phone from other friends. On a visual level, this seems rude and discourteous, and perhaps too, on a deeper level. Surely, we should be satisfied with and content with the company of one person? Why do we feel the need to simultaneously use our phones to connect with other people who aren’t present? This example is what I mean by the erosion of our social courtesies.
When you really think about it, we have become less concerned with what is polite and socially acceptable and more concerned with checking in on other people’s lives. Additionally, as a generation, we are seemingly never content with ourselves and our lives. Social media in particular is at the core of this with there being a deep-rooted belief that our life in its current state is not enough; that there is always something more interesting going on. ‘Fear of Missing Out’ - FOMO - means that we are never content with our present situations. It has led to a rise in social anxiety and builds on feelings of dissatisfaction, increasing our expectations when we go out. Even if we’re having fun, we still use other people’s experiences (or more pointedly - the portrayal of such online) as a standard against which to compare ourselves and our experiences with. The constant comparison is majorly unhealthy but is deeply ingrained in societal expectations, almost inextricable from our use of social media. It has escalated to the point where people enforce rules such as ‘no phones at the table’ or ‘no-one post photos tonight’ in order to prevent people from resorting to phones as a distraction or something to preoccupy ourselves with. The latter example in particular ties in with my argument of ‘pseudo-connectivity’ – the belief that our interactions are mostly for show and that we aren’t as socially connected as we’d like to believe.
Having recently watched “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix, a few other related questions come to mind. Who is to blame for the erosion of our social courtesies? Do social media companies have an ethical responsibility to control how addictive their apps are? Is it even possible for social media companies to regulate how addicting their apps are? Is there a place for ethics and accountability in the world of technology? We can delete apps or limit screen time but that does not change the fact that social media and technology in general have permanently altered human interaction.
Edited by Ketki Mahabaleshwarkar
Photo Design Charlee-Jane Kieser