As the saying goes, if a tree falls and nobody hears it, does it even make a sound? Well, let’s apply that logic to today’s digitalised world: if a friend has a birthday and you don’t get a Facebook alert, did it even happen? Whether you’re a reluctant Twitter user or Elon Musk, there’s no escaping how collectively plugged-in we are as a species now. Do the alarmists who tell us everything from Facebook to Tinder are bad for our brains have a point? Or is it more about getting what you want from these apps, rather than them running you? RISING asks the experts…
Mobile Conversation Blockers?
Headphones: short of reading 50 Shades of Grey and simultaneously eating KFC, nothing gets you left to your own devices on public transport faster than donning a pair of these. Granted, this privacy has its perks, but imagine all the countless Sliding Doors moments in airports, on train stations, in parks, on any single day, and the connections that might have blossomed into something more – a lifelong friendship, 2.4 children and a mortgage, or simply a shared guffaw to brighten the day – had it not been for a pair of Beats. Simply put: is Dr Dre partly responsible for the modern world’s lack of spontaneous connections?
Clinical psychologist Dr Jessamy Hibberd doesn’t rule it out: ‘By their very nature, headphones are social blockers,’ she tells RISING. ‘Humans have always found a way to buffer out other people – reading, looking elsewhere to avoid eye contact – but now there are even more ways to do so, making for increasingly less interaction and small talk. Even if you bump into the same person on a commute a couple of times per week, a relationship might not develop as it would have done a decade or two previously due to the rise in personal tech, including smartphones. As these devices open up the world to more people, our individual everyday world becomes much smaller as a result.’
‘Every step with technology that was supposed to bring us closer is actually moving us further apart’
Rise Of The Machines
Perhaps the biggest sign that tech is making us collectively more introverted is in its attempts to autotomise our lives, as Jean Smith, cultural anthropologist and social intelligence coach tells RISING: ‘Self-service in shops diminishes human connection. Google Maps means we don’t even have to ask for directions. Nine times out of 10 you would ask a stranger to take a picture; now we have selfie-sticks. At the expense of convenience, we’re missing out on connections. Every step with technology that was supposed to bring us closer is actually moving us further apart.’ That sounds like an ideal excuse to never, ever carry a selfie-stick – your style guru will thank you too…
‘Everyone’s become so disposable. It’s like McDonald’s – for a moment it tastes great, but later you feel empty inside, hungry again’
So, what of Facebook, where it's possible to scope out exactly who’s going to a party you’re listed as ‘Going’ to, before you’ve even ironed your shirt? Let’s be honest, it's a great platform we’re in no hurry to ditch, but could Mark Zuckerberg’s omnipresent network be inflicting a combo of FOMO and status anxiety?
A recent report by the Royal Society for Public Health warned of the mental health dangers for young people using Instagram, including depression and anxiety, and called for more social media platforms to watch out for effects of users spending too much time in the ether.
‘Some of my clients come to me depressed because their life is not like that of the lives of others they see on Facebook,’ relationship psychologist Madeleine Mason reveals to RISING. ‘People forget that what gets posted on social media is a heavily curated version of their lives. Most people do not share their mundane or depressing sides of their lives. Typically, we are privy to the successes, the holidays, the gigs, events, parties and family time. We have a natural tendency to want to share our positive life, and some have a need to only portray their life as popular and successful. On the other side of that, we crave the likes and the connections, we spend our time wrapped up in this world.’
Mind The App – Connectivity VS Connection
Dating has changed. Young couples are now more likely to have met online than they have in real life. Bumble, the dating app which allows women to send the first message, may have turned the tables, but it’s largely to the same effect: a swipe-happy flesh buffet where it’s quicker to get a date than it is a Deliveroo from a restaurant you live above.
Which begs the question: is there such a thing as too much choice? ‘Very much so, and people are starting to be dissatisfied by it,’ says Smith. ‘These apps promise an illusion, users think rejection won’t hurt as much online, but soon find that’s not the case. Everyone’s become so disposable. It’s like McDonald’s - for a moment it tastes great; you have more and feel empty inside, and you will be hungry half an hour later. We’ve started to become commodities. Even the way people treat each other online is different to how they’d be treated in the real world, it’s colder. With these sorts of apps we’re forced to objectify people, to put them in a box; it’s very one-dimensional.’
What’s more, swiping left and right on potential partners with the fervour of a playground Panini sticker collector (‘Got, Got, Got, Need, Got’) may also be causing us to miss a diamond in the rough. In a series of experiments carried out by psychologists at the University of Texas, it was found the more time we spend with a person, the more attractive they become; essentially rubbishing the notion of love being exclusively at first sight.
The tide, however, appears to be turning. Smith has been running ‘Fearless Flirting’ tours in London for the past decade and credits a boom in turnouts in the past three years directly with people falling out of love with technology: ‘My tour increased in popularity because I teach people how to talk to people in everyday life, which you can't get online. This isn’t just about single people either, it’s a breakdown of day-to-day social skills. We’re looking for connection and what we’re getting instead is connectivity.’
Dr Jessamy is another who thinks Skynet may just have to wait patiently before humanity keels over and surrenders to its digital overlords: ‘I’ve seen a backlash start for sure – we’re social creatures, we’re momentarily tizzy with the convenience of technology but now we’re starting to ask; “At what expense?”’
She suggests working a period of being unplugged into your routine. ‘Switch off. Turn your phone to airplane mode for a few hours a day. Try and spend more time with your friends – it might even help you meet someone without the apps. Over in the US dating scene you hear the term “vouched for” a lot, meaning someone has met through a friend of a friend, which you don’t get on the internet. Those who we meet on apps are attached to no one, they’ve just come from cyberspace, so it takes longer to bond.’
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