I am at an interesting place in my life. I am a qualified professional at the start of my career and I am far from home, exploring my surrounds in a new country. I may be a citizen of Germany, but I only share about 1% of the cultural heritage and therefore often feel like a fish out of water here.
Talking about water…I find myself longing for the sights and sounds that are familiar to me for brief moments every now and then. I think about my home in Cape Town and I long to see the sea and feel the cool Atlantic breeze. I also reminisce about my time spent in Johannesburg. The people in ‘Jozi’ are like no other and I often imagine my life there, and the people that continue to turn it up in the urban hub of the African continent.
And what makes these “missing” moments so much worse, or at least so much more immediate is the fact that at any one moment on social media (be it facebook, twitter, or instagram) I can literally see what others are getting up to back home. The last time I lived abroad this was not the case. When I went travelling before, I was never forced to confront images of my friends having the best time at Great Dane or lying on the beach at Bakoven in 26 degree heat in the middle of winter! Those travelling days were spent in blissful ignorance of what everyone else was doing. I mean sure, there was facebook back then. But there were no smart phones and there wasn’t as much wifi available everywhere! So perhaps I would manage to get on to facebook once a day or less. Invariably, I would use my internet time to write a group email to my family or post photos or something. I wasn’t scrolling through images on instagram. The sense of FOMO was way less.
So it got me thinking. And I have had this conversation with others before. I really feel that social media and technology often play a part in complicating our social lives and interactions with people. If we think back to the nineties or even the early noughties, what were some of the “givens” in social interaction that are no longer possible today and how have social media and technology interfered with these natural social processes.
1. Dating is a cat and mouse game
Dating is a cat and mouse game like never before. I know that games of “now you see me, now you don’t” have probably always been played. There needs to be some kind of chase and the cat-and-mouse-back-and-forth seems to be innate in human interaction, probably because we are mammals. But “the game” has now been taken to new heights thanks to facebook chat and whatsapp with their “last seen at…” and their technology that shows you when the other person has read your message. Girls and guys the world over are tormented by the question, “But I know s/he’s seeeen my message, why hasn’t s/he responded?”
I think this is a dangerous situation. I don’t think it helps to build trusting relationships. If you’re always looking at these external markers to determine whether someone is interested in you or not, it is unsurprising that you will feel more and more insecure and most likely say or do something to jeopardise the future of the relationship. I have heard of many relationships ending over whatsapp. A likely scenario is that one of the partners (let’s face it, it’s most likely the girl) gets impatient or starts to feel insecure when the other (most likely the boy) doesn’t text back. In the midst of panic, she sends some kind of needy or demanding text. “Why haven’t you replied?” or “Well fine, be like that” or something equally childish and… human. This is immediately off putting and usually has the reverse effect. In all likeliness, there was some reasonable explanation for his silence but her neediness and insecurity is for sure going to turn him off.
A part of me wishes there was no such thing as “the game” and to a degree I believe in the words of “he’s just not that into you” because if someone likes you then they will call or text and they won’t leave you hanging for days on end. But the truth is, these technologies only aid in creating paranoia, fuelled by a desire for instant gratification in a world where an immediate response is possible so therefore expected.
2. Friendships have lost their intimacy
When was the last time you stopped by your friend’s house just to hang? When was the last time you called your bestie and had an hour long chat on the phone? I can’t even remember…perhaps in high school? I really miss how the lack of immediacy brought us together for longer and with greater intensity. I remember sitting on friends’ beds for hours discussing boys and the meaning of life. I remember talking on the phone for hours to school friends who I had spent the whole day with. I don’t ever chat over phone calls anymore. It’s all facebook and whatsapp, conversations broken up into segments, long pauses between communication, and emoticons that ironically-not-ironically denote our innermost feelings.
In the grand hierarchy of social media communication, however, facebook chat and whatsapp are right on top and actually involve the most intimacy. For many, direct communication has fallen away completely and friendships are “maintained” via the voyeuristic “likes” on instagram images and facebook timelines. But if you only know about a person based on what they show you on their social media pages, then do you really know them at all?
We are all aware of how social media has turned us all into narcissistic, image conscious self-editors. People generally curate their facebook and instagram accounts to appear manicured and near perfect. Although you do get the occasional “oversharer”, most people put their best digital foot forward at all times, making it extremely unlikely that you will ever truly know the real person behind the artful selfies and “hotdogs or legs” shots.
To make this point blatantly clear, I recently heard about a girl who was shocked to discover that her friend was hospitalized for depression because she had been following her instagram and thought that her life looked great. They had fallen out of touch and she hadn’t actually spoken to her friend for about 2 months. Little did she know that her friend was battling major demons. It came as quite a shock and she felt both guilty and betrayed. How had she not known her friend wasn’t doing well? How could she have posted all those photos that made out like her life was so great when in fact it wasn’t? It really makes you wonder how many of us are interacting on this superficial and down right fake level a lot of the time? Do we really even know people anymore?
3. Your parents see things they otherwise wouldn’t
I am almost exempt from this because my mom is disinterested in facebook, although she now follows my blog. But a lot of my friends have to be very careful with what they post on social media because their parents or other family members are their friends. Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping it classy. We all know that employers use facebook and twitter to screen future employees and those swearword-full rants are never fully erased from the internet, despite your best efforts. But it does complicate these relationships. The whole notion of confidentiality doesn’t exist and despite the best privacy settings, if you sign up on these networks then you are exposing yourself to public scrutiny. You cannot be sure about who has access to your information and in all likelihood it is going to be someone who you otherwise would not share it with.
As an example, it is very common for people to put up party pictures on facebook. Now remember that every single friend of yours including your 13 year old cousin and 80 year old grandmother can see those pics. Sure, you might be okay with that. But the truth is that before facebook these members of your family had no idea what you were getting up to in your spare time. And you would never have had to field questions around the dinner table about the meaning of the word “twerking”.
4. Events are a numbers game
What is the first thing you do when you see an event on facebook? You check the attending list, right? I can’t remember the last time I was invited to an event because someone genuinely wanted me there. It’s all about getting those numbers on social media and using your friends to promote your event. What’s more, is that because of this culture of spamming people with event invites, most facebook users don’t even read their event invites anymore. Many people ignore a lot of what people invite them to because there is simply too much of it. If you really want people to know about your event, especially if it is for your birthday or something more intimate than your weekly Dubstep party then you have to use whatsapp or phone people directly.
Social media users are also so flooded with invites and now have so much access to information about all sorts of events, that there is a real problem with getting people to commit. Gone are the days when an RSVP actually meant something. These days, you’re lucky if half your guests who clicked “attending” on facebook actually turn up. The truth is that people are only “going” to an event up until the point that something better comes along and then it’s out with the old, in with the new. People basically just do what they think looks coolest at the time and there is no sense of loyalty or obligation to honour arrangements.
I don’t know, it’s not all bad. I love using facebook to connect with friends and believe it or not I actually really love all my friend’s pictures of their babies. I think it’s awesome that we get to see pictures of people travelling around the world because it’s like getting free travel information. And I love that my friends who make music or fashion or art can promote their work and that they look cool doing it. I also love the fact that I can whatsapp my mom all the way in Africa and she can reply (albeit slowly) in real time.
Social media can be a blessing but I urge you to use it wisely. Do not get fooled into thinking that you know what’s going on with someone just because they post awesome pics on insta. If you truly want to know someone, pick up the damn phone and call them, go out for coffee, or go for a walk. Ask about what’s not on social media. Then you might actually start having a true relationship.
Good luck out there, peeps!