This constant fervor (for some people, at least) has to do with social connections. Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, perhaps even e-dating profiles. We live in a world where a person can be in their bed but access almost anything in the world, and feel totally alone while doing it. This, I feel, is exactly why there are so many people who can’t help but set up all of their social media on their phone, and then check their feeds compulsively. Perhaps it is this very energy that forms intimate connections without the personal contact. The heart is bared not on one’s sleeve, but at the tips of one’s fingers. And so often, perhaps without the intent of doing so, our souls devour such contact, assimilating interaction with one or more digital individuals as an expected normality of daily life, sometimes to the point of causing stress or discomfort should any given day be an unexpectedly quiet one. This feeling, certainly for the inexperienced, is similar, at least subjectively, to the pang of missing a loved one or a close friend we’re used to interacting with regularly. As much as I imagine children undergoing such emotions in this example, the same could easily be said of an adult, no matter the age or romantic experience(s). It might not be a matter of text messages, it might be the lack of a phone call, or the unanswered Skype conference.
Such devotion, such hope, in my eyes can only be described as one of the pinnacles of faith, not of organized religion though perhaps something equally important and deep. It’s that sort of clichéd story you hear in a rom-com, or at the altar of a friend’s wedding, regardless of their religious beliefs, although digital trust, no matter how deep, is never quite as profound or tear-jerking. But as is the case with most real relationships — whether with a deity or another person — devotion may diminish as attention wavers to other aspects of life, leading to a serious, or perhaps series of deficiencies amongst the various other facets that constitute everyday life, which may be giving up or taking all the power in a relationship, making all the demands or none (as the case may be). Perhaps there is some mediation involved, but nevertheless an individual eventually finds themselves without a social life in the old fashioned “going out with people” sense of the phrase. A purely digital relationship can become a festishization of the idea of a person thrown atop a pedestal which one then hangs off of, like a monkey staring at the world’s largest banana. While this may lead to contentment for some people, so much time-consuming attention really ought to be left to the world of fantasy; stories that can be picked up or put down at a moment’s notice, instead of becoming a harmful force in one’s life, enforced by loneliness or shyness or an inability to socialize in the sort of large gatherings where one meets people.
Yet this recent phenomenon is totally acceptable, until there’s an intervention. It’s important to bear in mind that I don’t just refer to the vanilla “oh we’re totally not dirty people” (even if that may be true) sort of intimate relationships. I mean straight from the hardly touching one another to the “we probably need to sign a waiver for this stuff’’ sort of interplay. And I warn you, dear reader, this exists. I think some part of us accepts that a lot of people have some pretty strange kinks in their sex lives. But some take it to the extreme: there are people out there that want to be violated, albeit in a controlled environment. To elaborate, rape fantasies are a desire some people have, and be it through textual roleplay or through deliberate planning, some seek to physically facilitate it.
Regardless of the scenarios people find themselves in though, there is an undeniable emotional bond growing between increasing numbers of people across our ever expanding digital networks. It’s not all about love, or even about friendship. Largely it is an individual’s desire to be accepted for who they are, and who they can be. The plastic screens simply appear to make such exposition an easier task for many people, as though a weight has been lifted from their conscience, freeing them of worries that may otherwise cause them to crawl inside their internal shells.
As much as many of us might want to think that distancing our social interactions through technology is a step backwards as far as social and personal development goes, I would have to argue that it cannot be a step backwards so much as to the side, at the very least. It’s not total freedom, and can do just as much harm as it can good, but the benefits are, for most, completely undeniable. If technology allows people to be more honest about themselves, I would say that’s the most emotionally liberating thing a person, especially perhaps, a younger person who feels heavier chains, can experience in this age. Bear this with the proverbial grain of salt. I’ve never been one to prescribe a single solution and this is certainly one of those cases. I would even go so far to say that, however useful it may be for some individuals, I hope that it never becomes the only way; I fear if it did we would lose touch with part of our humanity.
Aaron Grierson is Senior Articles Editor for the magazine.