Torrential rain and the dejected dopplering of an ice cream van in the distance…
Okay, I find some of this a little corny and definitely simplistic.
In my final year of sociology, I started researching whether parasocial interaction was displacing social, which is, in some ways, what this video is suggesting. I didn’t have enough time to pursue it beyond the earliest reading because my actual dissertation beckoned.
I grew up pre-web, pre-mobile phone. I don’t remember my life as being terrible for that lack. The other side of that is not to fall into some nostalgic fantasy that those days were golden and mobiles ruined everything and look, kids don’t even talk to each other now. That’s obviously piffle.
What I would say is that there seems to be a greater degree of ignorance in everyday interaction. As we have adopted what was initially business-oriented tech, it appears that the tech has shaped our interactions to be more business-like: based on utility, exploitation and what serves our own interests best.
Personally, I am fed-up with talking to people who are constantly on their phones at the same time. These people always claim to be able to multi-task but the truth is, instead of giving one person 100% of their attention, they’re giving two (or more!) people far less.
What is so urgent that it can’t wait? Is it that crucial to like a stranger’s Instagram rather than talk to a flesh and blood friend in the same room?
Checking your phone has become, for a lot of us, a social tic and a prop in the Goffmanian sense. It’s exactly the same as people feeling awkward in nightclubs/parties unless they’re holding a drink or a fag.
The tech becomes a layer of protection against what we perceive to be a largely indifferent and sometimes positively cruel world. We feel anxious so we fire up our phones and, instantly, here’s a little world of people who know us. They know we’re sexy, funny, creative, have a band, ship Destiel or whatever.
So we smile and we like, reblog, retweet, favourite, comment.
But in that attention, we may miss some new possibility around us. And we most definitely send out a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ which is as strong as sitting with your earbuds in, blasting out Arise Horror.
I’m old so I can switch modes, I grew up with other interactional models available to me. But what if you’ve grown up within this new framework? Will you be like Vashti, comfortable in conformity or like Kuno, longing to experience a humanity you feel denied you?
(While I was looking up Forster links, I found this description of Vashti:
Vashti is content with her life, which, like most inhabitants of the world, she spends producing and endlessly discussing secondhand ‘ideas’.
Hey, Tumblr, does that sound familiar at all?)
Since I deleted my Facebook last August, my life has been a lot happier. I did have this brief withdrawal period where I felt isolated but that faded as I replaced the parasocial with the social. And, er, actually doing stuff like songwriting, writing, photography, etc. That’s the other side of this: we only have limited time, if we spend so much of it like Vashti does, who’s going to produce the new comics, films, telly?
There is a current thread of anti-tech sentiment I witness in twentysomethings I know. This seems allied to the vinyl / cassette / film camera fetishism of that generation. You could attribute it to passing hipsterism or it may be the marker of an underlying alienation, a realisation that all this convenient social tech is actually inconveniencing us and making us asocial.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the cultures develop…