I sat in a group and within a few seconds of everyone sitting down, I looked up and every single person had their eyes glued to their mobile phones. Facebook, instagram, tinder, snap chat, text messages… all seemed vastly more important at that moment than the fourteen other people who were also inhabiting that very small space. Granted the people I work with are all under 20, they are young and the reality is most of their lives are lived online. In fact, some of the most important moments that they ever experience are instantly shared, the good and the bad, with hundreds (often thousands) of their ‘closest’ friends… many of whom they do not know. The intricate details of their lives are laid out, their hearts are cracked open, their secrets are shared with the world. Their most vulnerable moments, their youthful mistakes, their moments of desperate loneliness are spelled out, often in 140 characters or less.
I often watch strangers – I watch them to understand, to observe, to create a catalogue in my own minds eye of what it ‘looks’ like to be human in our modern western world. And more often than not, what it looks like, is people looking at small screens – waiting to be noticed, waiting to be heard, waiting for someone to reply – and missing the big beautiful world that is going on around them.
Every day more and more of the things that we do, both at work and at home, are automated. With so much automation in our lives, I feel as if the human ability to communicate, to collaborate and to come together is becoming alarmingly automated also. I learn a lot from working with young people (they are indeed the best teachers in so many things), and I’ve been learning recently that there are all kinds of rules around how one communicates online. From the use of emotocons, to what can be seen as a promiscuous ‘poke’ (how naive of me to think a poke was just a poke), the heavy weight a like can give a status, or the heavy weight not giving someones picture a like can carry… and what it says to the people around you. What one ‘ha’ means compared to two ‘haha’ or to three ‘hahaha’, or certain periods of time after you meet a new person that you are supposed to wait before you text them (anyone remember the three day rule of the nineties?) … It’s like a hidden code of information, that people ‘in the know’ tease out to figure out what everyone around them is saying… whilst no one is really saying anything at all.
Then of course there is the lewd online behaviour, like dick pics and strange creepy pick up lines and sex proposals from people you’ve never even met. I tend to advise young people just not to do any of these at all, they are almost always guaranteed to come back and bite you in the ass one day.
With so much automation and unspoken rules I feel like most people are forgetting how to stay human amongst the see of emoji’s and memes and loaded ‘likes’, we are being blinded by the ease of it all, by the incredible shallowness of it all and it’s making us worse at the things that really matter. Like compassion and friendship and connection of all kinds.
Why can’t we just say ‘I like you,’ or ‘you hurt me,’ or ‘I wish we could be friends…’
I read this really interesting article This is how we Date Now whilst doing some research for a chat I was having with some young women. I can’t say I agree with everything that it says, but I’ve certainly run into some of those experiences myself. However, I’ve also met some really great people on online dating apps, sure they weren’t the ‘right’ people for me, but they are still to this day friends of mine and we have a rad time in a non intimate way… do you know why? Because we both managed to be ourselves during that time we spent together figuring out our relationship. Neither of us adhered to the weird rules of not texting too much, or not texting enough… we just texted and chatted on the phone and saw each other in person when we wanted to.
Like humans, hanging on real tight to our humanity in an online world where filters reigns supreme.
So whether you are online dating, or making new friends or if you have a penchant for being a bit of a keyboard warrior or a troll.
Just remember, behind that other screen is a real live breathing human (and there is one in you too).
Lets find our way back to our humanity, hey? Before we loose all the good stuff for good.