The Great Disconnect

“I think part of the problem is the internet. I know that sounds like a typical thing for your tired, old mother to say.  I’m not scapegoating technology. I think that your generation has a tough time establishing relationships because of all those app-thingys. Too many options–You can manipulate the world to suit your desires in a way that I never was. You can alter things to meet your exact preferences. There is less struggle, less hard work, less excitement from the “luck of the draw.” The world’s potential is too easily accessible. It leads to endless searching in a way that prevents forging of genuine human connection.  This is a blessing, a lesson, a catalyst. Not a curse.  It’s the universe showing you that you have more to do for you, to be you.”

Pile of iPhone and MacBook Pros

One of my favorite things is when my mom ends up on a tangent with the intent of connecting. She adds superfluous “the”s into places where they don’t belong which adds humor to heavy perceptions. Her Northern Minnesota accent is obsolete and seamlessly replaced with non-rhoticity and cot-caught merger resistance. Sometimes I become too focused on her inappropriate use of “The Internet,” “The iPad,” and “The Facebook” and miss the point entirely.  I admire her ability to keep up with the times, despite that up until a few years ago, she still ran on 56k dial-up.    

All brand name abuse aside, my mom might be onto something. I feel inclined to agree with her, not out of biological obligation, but more so because I think that she is right. Connection and retention are probably harder than it ever was.  

Millennials are painted as a spoiled generation. The technological revolution has provided us with more options, and we have grown more accustomed to customization. App-thingy’s and The Facebook have altered the way we express emotion, connect and date. Finding love and forging relationships has become just as fine-tuned as everything else in our lives.  World Economic Forum study on social interaction through the digital media lens

Don’t like the music on our Spotify station? Thumb it down, cut it out.  Don’t like our data plan, adjust it. Don’t like how much money we make?  Take out another credit card. Annoyed by the people on our Facebook feed? Hide them and then delete them. Our lives have an “on-demand” quality– how could we not expect our relationships to be the same?  

The problem lies in that we are more focused on crafting the world around us to suit our desires than we are on crafting the world within us to create opportunities to manifest those desires. This puts an undue amount of pressure on us to micromanage our lives, and at times, I feel that this pressure has turned me into my own perceived public relation disaster waiting to happen.   

Love it or hate it, social media has been a valuable exercise in censorship and micromanagement. I’m a firm believer that it is ok to use the internet to express a wide variety of human emotions. Many people believe that social media should only be used to communicate happy experiences. My only defense is if we censor our feelings and output to strictly positive and devoid of raw emotion, is that an accurate representation of the world around us?   

No part of me believes that your entire day-to-day existence consists of bouquets of gas station roses from your significant other and gushy statuses about being “blessed.” Unless you’re a robot and friends with robots or you, have a way better therapist, and anti-depressant than my health insurance affords. Then I might believe that you are always brimming with 100% saccharine joy.  

There is a stark difference between being overly negative and being insincere by eradicating the spectrum of less than ideal human emotions. It leads to the perception that to be genuine and emotional is to be volatile and unstable. Give me your statuses about dead dogs, sewage floods, and how you had a horrible day at work. Beyond the marketing, social media should have a certain level of authenticity. I can recognize your happiness when I’ve shared your failures. Give me your realness.   Implications of Digital Media Survey, World Economic Forum

There is a common expectation that relationships should be ideal from the get-go with minimal work. How about instead of hiding behind our devices we create ways to have open and honest conversations with each other? I don’t mean talk where we say what we think the other person wants to hear. I mean, those conversations that you are afraid of having IRL, and if it were the internet, you would have written it, deleted it and rewritten it, seven or more times, while the other person watched in suspense at the “typing” bubble.   

B.I. (Before Internet), the physical interaction was the mainstay of introduction, excepting the popularity of mail order husbands during the Civil War. It was a time of real-time, face-to-face, interactions facilitated by church attendance or a visit to the county fair. Are you going to get to know some boy or girl that you are madly in like with when half the neighborhood is picking up their end of the party line, trying to call their Aunt Gladys in Tulsa? No.    

B.I.(Before Internet) you met your husband by running into the most obnoxious guy in your small town at the delicatessen that you frequented. That’s how my parents met.   

B.I. you had some other type of awkward interaction that could secure your position as inspiration for the character of the single girl at the beginning of a rom-com. 

P.I. (Post Internet) introductions are different. We add or follow because of mutual internet acquaintances. Typically, this facilitates my favorite conversation starter: “Hi, we’ve never actually met IRL, but I follow you on Instagram.” 

Digital Media Usage by Device, Access and Country from the Implications of Digital Media Survey, 2015 World Economic ForumWe swipe right, send awkward messages and avert our eyes when we encounter someone who read and did not respond. (Thank you, read receipts). Surreptitiously sleuthing the social media outlets of potential partners has become a new addition to the modern American courtship experience. Human prospects light up our lock screen along with memes, a barrage of social media notifications, and recommendations from our favorite creepy friend, Algorithm.  

Constant access to universal technology facilitates lightning-quick displays of interest with a level of non-committal ambiguity: you can like everything while loving nothing. “I think he likes me because he liked everything that I posted in the past week” has replaced “cassette mixtape” as the new “he likes me, he likes me not.” Our relationships are enabled by the mask of the internet and progress with minimal commitment.  This digital arms-length allows us to pull back when we realize that a living breathing unedited human doesn’t match the cultivated internet persona that we were hoping for.    

Prince Charming and The Girl of Our Dreams have this temporary quality.  There’s an unspoken fear that there’s always someone better out there.  Is it too much to hope for a guy that likes cats, Canada, lo-fi bands, transit and has a massive—degree?  

Maybe?! But I don’t think so.   

It’s the fear that if we commit to the one person that brings us present joy and excitement, we may be too occupied to notice when the sky opens, the angels sing, and divine poetic light shines down on our “soul mate” when they arrive. To push towards this unattainable level of perfection and expect it in others, places undue pressure on ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I know that I love setting unrealistic expectations and waiting for the other shoe to drop.   

I'll like you on Tinder but I won't message youI don’t think that, Before Internet, our ancestors viewed it as ‘settling’ when they finally picked a mate. Maybe they didn’t know what else was out there and perhaps happier and more gracious with what they had. The dreamers probably wondered what else was out there. I doubt that “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” had shifted into “There’s over 6 billion fish in the sea. You have a whole world of people to meet still.” With less access to the rest of the world, the connection was less hindered by the “what ifs.”  

I sometimes think that we struggle with contentment. Knowledge and accessibility have left us wanting for more, and by “more” I mean “everything.” We may not be able to have everything that we want, but we can change that mindset to be able to want everything that we have.  

Over time, we are reducing humanity to avatars. What we should be doing is growing and challenging ourselves to reach out and connect. These face-to-face, open and honest conversations should be opportunities.  

The only self-induced behavioral pressure that I want is to meet the expectations of who I want to be; Pressure to travel, write more, and grow intellectually and academically. I don’t like feeling conflicted about how I should be interacting based on the social norms of online media, and its conversion into real time.  

Am I anti-internet? How could I be, with the amount that I am logged in? With that being said, I think that we rely on digital interaction far too much. We have resulted in texting people who are sitting across the table from us. Family dinners have evolved to silence, because of mobile preoccupation. How many times have you texted someone across town instead of hanging out, when you both were lounging around doing nothing? Let’s not count; it’s marginally embarrassing.    

The internet can be a good icebreaker, but we need to step out of our second selves once the ice has been broken. We need to move past responding to “How are you today?” with a generic response that is not the truth and indicates that everything is hunky-dory because we don’t want to impose our emotions on others. The Internet has its place; It is a valuable tool for sustaining relationships when there is an inability to be face to face. I love the internet because it keeps me connected to my friends in various parts of the world. We should spend more time sitting on stoops and getting to know one another outside of the realm of apps with “The” inappropriately attached.   

Let’s go for an adventure, push a car out of a snowbank, sing along to favorite songs at the tops of our lungs. If need be, you can start the conversation by saying that you follow me on Instagram.    

 

Disclosure: An earlier version of this piece was published in a 2014 edition of the Duluth, Minnesota-based, feminist zine, Minerva. This is the first time that this piece has in any capacity been published in digitized text. 

 

 

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