Words by: Matt Kelly
I consider myself to be a people-person. I find humans to be incredibly interesting. We all see the world through different eyes and experience our lives in different ways and yet we are fundamentally similar. People are amazing and I love them, I love us. I especially love connecting with someone, whether a new acquaintance or an old friend, on a previously unexplored level. I crave human connection, whether it is intellectual or physical, for there is so much to learn about myself and about others.
Being with someone exposes you not only to his or her life experiences and philosophical musings but it can change your own. Through interaction with others we come to know ourselves. Each time I meet a new person who asks what my favourite things are or questions why I have a certain view on something I am given the opportunity to explain myself. Typically these are not things that I wrestle with internally because I understand myself and because of this these opportunities are unique. While I may muse to myself about the way the world is and how that impacts my attitudes and values I don’t often vocalise those thoughts.
It is undeniable that human interaction is enriching and essential to our lives because we are social beings. Unfortunately there are many aspects of contemporary society that heavily impact on this notion of social interaction – it has gotten to the point where I think we may be doing more damage to ourselves than good.
I honestly don’t remember the last time I called a friend to catch up. It was probably over five years ago, long before I became lost down the rabbit hole that I carry in my back pocket and long before Facebook became insidiously ingrained in my every day life. Now if I want to arrange a meeting I need only send a single message. It might reach one person or a group of people, either way it only takes a moment to organise. Or perhaps the weather is bad, or I’m too tired to hang out in person, in that case I could Skype someone.
But then perhaps I don’t like the way I look today, so I settle for chatting online for hours – this regularly happens with my best friends, people that I actively involve in my life that I want to experience things with, people who I love. However, these are people that I really should be spending time with in the flesh, rather than through some form of technological connection. If this is happening with people that I am already acquainted, imagine the dating scene.
Consider the following scenario:
A mutual friend at a social gathering introduces a young man and woman to one another. They talk briefly and find there to be a connection of sorts, they modestly exchange contact details and agree to a date at some stage in the near future. They converse via phone calls and make the appropriate arrangements. The date arrives and the young man drives to the young woman’s house to pick her up. They have booked a nice restaurant for dinner and drinks. On the way to their date light conversation flows naturally as they begin to learn about the background and interests of one another. This conversation continues throughout dinner and as they continue to discover more about each other they develop a real connection and a friendship forms. After eating and having paid, they leave. The man takes the woman home and wishes her a pleasant evening and with a warm smile, departs. This may be repeated on a regular basis, leading to courtship and perhaps marriage as the two get to know one another through hours of conversation spread over some time.
This scenario immediately feels dated and that’s because the way we interact and stay connected is changing. Technology is creating major changes to our social behaviour. Sure, we meet people at parties and when we get a long with someone we totally swap details, but you’ll get my Facebook, Instagram and my Snapchat well before you get my number and honestly, that’s a bit messed up. We would rather keep people at arms length. Here, enjoy my carefully constructed Instagram persona and watch my obviously amazing life through the lens of Snap Chat. Do you see how many friends I have on Facebook? That’s because I’m an awesome person, obviously.
It is all very vain and contrite and detrimental to enriching social interaction. The ‘term social media’ is fundamentally misleading. Sure, we are able to engage with people online from anywhere in the world at basically any time we choose, and that’s great. However, in the pursuit of connecting with as many people as we can online I think that we miss out on making connections closer to home. Unfortunately, the increasing prevalence and popularity of dating apps such as Tinder only compound this issue.
“21. Single. Likes: dancing, festivals, the beach, road trips. If you’re looking for sex, swipe left now. If you have a dog in your pictures then I’ve definitely swiped right on you 😉 Sorry I don’t message first. No boring people.”
Most of us have read a bio similar to the one above. With technology dictating the way current generations are interacting, it’s almost weird if you’re not bingeing on a self-gratifying dating app. Tinder is a prime example of how messed up aspects of contemporary ‘dating’ have become.
Users are afforded six photos and 500 characters, which they then use to portray themselves as desirably as possible. If both parties ‘like’ one another then their profiles are linked and a messenger extension opens up. But this alone does not guarantee that the communication floodgates will open. It actually allows for an even more frustrating condition of tech dating – who strikes first.
This is a particularly perilous place to find oneself. While it is more socially acceptable for men to make the first move we are so concerned with guarding our true feelings that distancing ourselves has become the new cool way to act. Pathetic emoji greetings replace actual words, while obviously frivolous pick up lines, that can be quickly sidestepped as humour, allow us to avoid any and all investment in a burgeoning conversation. Neither party wants to put themselves on the line and as a result, both people lose.
Even if a conversation does blossom, you’re not out of the woods yet. Social media gives us the power to carefully construct a public façade and as a result we can never be sure that the person we are talking to is in fact as they appear online. Now I’m not shallow, aesthetics matter in terms of fundamental attraction but I am far more concerned with someone’s ability to hold a conversation and have intelligent things to contribute. A sense of humour also goes a very long way with me. But I don’t like being misled, whether intentionally or otherwise.
I recently matched with a girl on Tinder. She had a great smile, attended the same university as me, and her bio listed a few common interests – things seemed promising. We chatted casually for a few days before arranging to meet up for a drink. I arrived at the bar about ten minutes before my date, and scoped out a good spot to sit. I recognised her as she walked in, but she was far shorter than she had appeared online. Gone was the toned body that she’d exhibited in her photos and her hair was a lot shorter than it had been in her profile. While this wasn’t what I had expected, I wasn’t put off because we had chatted so naturally online and she appeared to be a genuine person. Unfortunately, our conversation in person didn’t flow quite as well.
My date loudly talked over me at times and was constantly comparing things to her memories of a holiday she had taken to Germany two years ago. She talked about Berlin for literally twenty minutes and even brought up her Tinder profile to draw my attention to two of her photos, which were taken on said holiday. She then complained about how she couldn’t find a nice guy and that Tinder was full of morons. She mentioned that I seemed nice even though she followed that by mentioning that I didn’t appear that keen on her either.
It was quite an experience. I had been misled in a sense, both by her profile pictures and by her online persona. The mere fact that she produced her phone to discuss Tinder, her previous matches, and dates was a terrible move on her part. Her insistence in talking about an event that occurred two years prior made it clear to me that she didn’t really have much to work with and I began to realise that it was my questioning and interest in learning about her that had spurred our chat online.
Without my probing, she really didn’t have much to say. Which is fine. It’s not my intention to come off as being incredibly critical, maybe she was just nervous. I certainly don’t nail every social encounter I engage in, however the whole situation left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Not only had I effectively wasted an evening, I felt uncomfortable and was even slightly annoyed that I had allowed myself to be misled. Furthermore I had invested time in our conversations online only to find that to ultimately be a waste. Even more unfortunate is that this is a situation that I’ve found myself in a number of times over the past couple of years, and so have plenty my friends, both male and female.
Of course, not every encounter is a bad experience and I do enjoy that I have connectivity at my fingertips, but our collective relationship with technology is clearly changing the landscape of dating and socialising. While there are numerous positives that come with technology, it bothers me to see the degradation of social interaction first hand. I fear that future generations will become more reliant on applications like Tinder and Facebook for their social fixes, and that interpersonal relationships will suffer as a result.