My relationship status: it’s complicated.
Not with my girlfriend—with my phone. For every wonderful and life-changing app that I download and pretend I use, there’s one that just annoys me to no end: the phone app. Every time it lights up, my heart goes down. Not because I hate who’s on the other end (usually) but because it requires so much effort; Am I laughing enough at their joke? Do I sound cheerful? Did I just interrupt them or were they finished talking? It would be so much easier if I could just read their text from the comfort of my own solitude. When you need to talk to someone you don’t actually talk to them: you text them, you message them, you tweet them, even email them before making a call.
The word “communicate” is derived from the Latin “communicare,” meaning to impart, share or make common. But when I hear that word I automatically think of “commune.” And when I think of commune, all I can think of is a bunch of nuns silently eating bland beans in a stuffy, stone church. Not a whole lot of communication happening there. But is our modern “commune-ication” much different? Most of our interactions occur in the solitude of our own rooms. Echoes of once rich and lively conversations have been reduced to the Morse-code of clacking keyboards and buzzing ringtones.
We lie upon the cusp realizing the great falsity of our generation: more, and easier, ways of communicating propagates more, and better, communication. The reality is that social
media is far from social; we are walking oxymorons believing that clicking “like” on a post is equivalent to some kinds of words of affirmation. Perhaps even more disconcerting, is how much affirmation we actually receive from those “likes.”
Don’t get me wrong, our contemporary communication still serves both sender and receiver well. Perhaps now more than ever we have the
ability to exchange information in an accurate and timely manner. Even each ‘lol’ and ‘omg’ can be selected with care to invoke an exact emotion from the receiver.
Consider your online communication style for a moment. Don’t worry, it won’t take much longer than it takes to type a tweet. Let’s imagine your online profile as a black of granite—yes, you are the sculptor. Every post, every added friend, every status update is a chisel chip into your sculpture. No matter how much you intend these interactions to be personal, your online profile is not a cozy chair in the corner of a coffee shop—it’s in a piece in a gallery, for all to see. You show the world exactly what you want, and hide everything you don’t.
Every action we take online is an intentional strike into the creation of our David. The problem is that we now expect our real life to be an extension of this perfect personal production. But our life doesn’t have a delete key, nor does it allow for editing. Real life is raw and difficult. It is out of these ugly things that our identity is born; those experiences form our identity. Our statue is flawless, and we have tricked ourselves into thinking we are too.
The confidence that this idealism brings also comes with its own insecurities. You might say that with this emerging social norm, we’ve now begun to harbour an unconscious fear of being “unfriended” in real life, which has fundamentally altered face-to-face communication. When we enter a social setting, an implicit pressure to perform—to earn the attention of our friends—weighs upon us. It’s much easier to be witty in a comment bar, than the bar down the street. We may act like our electronic twin is our identical, but deep down we know we can’t have both the David and a heartbeat within it.
I am not writing this from a disillusioned higher ground. I am the guiltiest of the techno-whores. I strongly believe that the channels o er in the best forum that the 21st century can provide. There must be room for growth, room for error, room for
those oh-so-awkward moments.
It is good that we desire our lives to be works of art; but our identities are meant to be formed without the pressures of an audience expecting perfection. Of course we should continue to present beautiful moments of our lives online but not at the sacrifice of beautiful moments of sincerity. Take the time to admire the sunset with your eye before your lens. Don’t be afraid to chime into the conversation, even without the safety net of the preceding Enter key. You may not always be proud of your piece in the gallery of life, but be at peace that its impact reaches further than your WiFi signal.