What’s on your mind? I question, do they really want to know or are they hoping you make an outrageous status, tagging twenty people, encouraging those friends to ‘log in’ a few more times that day? Sitting across my friend at a restaurant I watched as she tapped away at her phone answering this question ‘– with Amelia O’Loughlin, just ordered two yasia katsu curries @Wagamama’.
Bored, I surveyed the room observing every other 13+ person gormlessly replicating this act and their company twiddling their hair or people-watching like me. We go to restaurants, places, and events for entertainment, pleasure and enjoyment- so it seems. But is there an ulterior motif? Secretly or subconsciously, are we reluctantly RSVP-ing to event after event, purely for our online reputation. Instead of just living those experiences, we seem to have picked a habit of recording these experiences.
At the age of 13 there was the same recurring argument every dinner time; I wanted to text my very serious, three-week-running boyfriend, Dan, and my mum wanted me to engage like a human being and eat my dinner. Now, six years later, I hate to say it but I agree! It’s laughable that we entitle the act of broadcasting our life as ‘social networking’, when actually not a shred of social behaviour is visible when a person can’t hold eye contact, let alone a conversation.
If anything, social networking encourages it’s users to stay at home, as communication and relationships are virtually, readily available. Paradoxically when we do leave the house to socialise, we spend our time being anti-social (gazing down at our phones), but pretending to be social (updating statuses). When something becomes a popular activity or the social norm, do prior rules of social behaviour and etiquette get thrown out the window? We hear that little sound, whether it’s a whistle, a whoosh or an old nokia beep beep, our hungry hands instinctively reach for our phones.
Is it that we feel wanted? A sense of urgency runs through us at the prospect of being needed for something? An invite? A comment? A tag? I know that my generation of teens struggle to avoid peeking at their notification, but in watching the other restaurant-goers I noticed parents (especially) eager to caption their day out with the family. Taking photo after photo-thanks to that difficult middle child that wouldn’t smile- desperate to find a perfect projection of how they want their world to seem. Don’t get me wrong; when I feel miserable and crappy and a camera is shoved in my face, I smile. I also understand for a busy family of five it’s important to cherish those special Sunday’s out for lunch. But amongst this captioning, uploading and commenting, do we enjoy ourselves; do we actually cherish the moment? Or is the moment stimulated and then swept away by the excitement of publication?
Charlie Brooker’s second series of Black Mirror episodes have been a fairly recent channel 4 release over the last few weeks; I waited and watched in awe of the writer’s theatre for social change after having eagerly consumed the first series in one sitting. ‘Be Right Back’ (season two, episode one) introduces the world of Martha (Hayley Atwell) who is devastated by the sudden death of her partner Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) and seeks comfort in the suggestion of a friend who insists she sign-up to a system allowing virtual communication with the dead.
Initially horrified by this concept, Martha grieves naturally until curiosity and loneliness conquers sanity. In went Ash’s details, and abracadabra! He’s back. His years of social networking facilitate a personality for Martha to converse with.
Recorded online information such as previous statuses, conversations, photos, music uploads, collaborate to create a virtual Ash. The past few years of broadcasted events and outings give virtual Ash a memory of his life, conversations and statuses determine articulation and relationships.
Our social networking sites know us; they know our minds and our lives, better still, all those forgotten pictures, ideas/thoughts, meetings and greetings are perfectly stored away, our memory is inferior to online history. If we are identified by our experiences, relationships and personality, then what is the worth or purpose of our bodies? If all we do and all we think is stored and available online, then what is left for us? Is there nothing more to know or discover in ourselves and others? Is there anything beyond the online status? Maybe our newly ingrained culture of online socialising has corrupted our face-to-face socialising (by that, I do not mean skype!)
Are social norms now our virtual activity?