(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).
There is something off in our society when incidents of walking injuries are now more common than distracted driving. This stems, I think from the modern expectation of social availability, and the culture of shared experience that we find ourselves.
The professional and personal expectation nowadays is that one is always and instantaneously available – or at least that they should be. Emails, texts, (calls?), come at us at all hours of the night and day, including holidays, and the implication is being, “I know you have a smartphone, so I know you see this.” Private/professional boundaries are at an all time low. Yes, one can choose not to respond. We can choose this, but the insecurity of feeling the need to respond for fear of. (I’m not sure what exactly)..is always present.
One of the moments one can escape this (well, at least for the most part), is while on an airplane. You don’t really realize just how much noise and distraction is associated with our current connectedness until the plane lands, and before it even reaches the gate, the plane is a cacouphony of “bings!” “dings!” “whistles!” “swooshes!”, and whatever other irritable noises people choose to subject their fellow passengers to.
Our digital communications platforms (Text, WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., etc.,) are all designed in ways to let you monitor whether or not someone is reading your text, thinking about what to type back, or has read it but chose to flat out ignored it. There is a whole art to communicating via text, especially in romantic relationships, as is humorously described here by the actor and comedian, Aziz Ansari.
In a sad way, our modern technology has disrupted the expectation of communications that humans have lived with the reality of for thousands of years. Not until this past decade have we been able to see, in real time, the person we’re interacting with via mediated communications contemplating their thoughts, and then wondering “why” when they don’t respond. The “typing” and “read” indicators noted in both text messaging and other messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook, I would argue, have done more harm to our communications with other people than texting itself. The reason being that those little indicators create in the reader an expectation of acknowledgement and of anticipated response. Because we know the reader on the other end has seen our message, and we know they’ve contemplated a response, our minds go down the rabbit hole of speculation when nothing comes back from them. The insecurities begin to mount, and what I call “text baiting” starts up (“Did you get my test?….”You there?!”…”Everything okay?!”). This is especially prevalent in romantic communications via these mediums.
Another related topic to this is the idea of what all of this oversharing is doing to erode our privacy. What with NSA spying on Americans, and the greater threat of identity theft due to the increase in people’s online presence, is MORE sharing and MORE online presence a good idea for our well-being? One guy thinks so. Hasan Elahi shared everything about his life online in an effort to create a fool proof alibi to prove to the FBI that he wasn’t a terrorist after they mistakenly put him a terrorist watch list. Elahi says, “The best way to protect your privacy is to give it away.” The article is a bit outdated (written in 2007) given the current online environment, but you can read the full account of his experiment here.
Another interesting article I recently read discusses how Facebook, and the sharing culture it has created, have changed the way we think about the present moment. The idea is expounded upon in great detail here.
To summarize the argument of the article: We have become so accustomed to sharing our present moments via Facebook and other social media platforms, that we are living in a “future present”. What this means essentially is that we are, less and less, able to allow ourselves to enjoy or even experience the present, because we are thinking about the present in terms of the future. In other words, we are so concerned with crafting the perfectly shareable moment that we can share to our online community, that we act in the present in a way that will allow for a perfectly curated future moment to take place. Case in point – the selfie.
The “selfie”, is explained here within the context of Michele Faucoult’s philosophy on confession. It’s rather tongue in cheek, but still quite interesting, and applies to the sharing culture in general:
I recently deactivated my Facebook account – a decision which I wrote about in an earlier post. And, to be quite honest, I haven’t missed it. In fact, I almost forgot I ever even had it. I’ll probably reactivate it at some point, but I wanted to experimentally break away from it for a while to simply see how I felt, and whether I missed it in my daily life. I do not.
Yes, I still have Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, as well as this blog. Because of this, some could argue it makes me a hypocrite for criticizing the culture of social media. I would argue I’m merely pointing out a problem created by those platforms, not that the platforms can’t be useful in some way. However, the platforms have pervaded our lives so much that they are controlling our interactions with people, the present, reality, in such a way that, I think, is becoming debilitating to our society. When I witness a group of adults sitting at a restaurant, all on their phones, and not interacting with each other, I can’t help but wonder if this behavior is the “canary in the coal mine” for larger societal problems (increased social anxiety, lack of empathy, lack of attention, lack of patience, meanness, mindless consumption) currently rampant in the world around us.