Yesterday, I had a slightly awkward reintroduction to someone that I met a few weeks ago. Since we first talked, I have exchanged a few words with him- a smile and a“hi” in the hallway and an awkward side-step with the obligatory accompanying “sorry”’s and “excuse me”’s in the J-Lot. However, I know things about him that I shouldn’t based on the amount we’ve interacted- things I wouldn’t know if we were in this same place in 2010. I am aware of his after school schedule, I’ve seen him when he’s bored of homework and what he looks like when he’s just woken up. I can surmise who his best friends are and can guess who he wants his best friends to be.
I don’t know his last name. I do, however, know his Snapchat username. Snapchat, an app where users can take and send to their friends pictures with accompanying captions that last for a mere 1-10 seconds, is the medium we’ve used- the medium many Miramonte students use- to showcase the menial trivialities that make up our day: everything from walking in the rain to complaining about the assigned reading of Shelley’s Frankenstein. It’s a light and easy way to communicate with people and so it’s no wonder that the app can be found on the phones of countless Matadors, and one can see young people taking pictures of themselves around every turn.
I, myself, am a Snapchat fiend. It’s a convenient way to get in touch with my friends who attend other schools, and a casual and fun way to contact acquaintances who you’d like to get to know better. Not to mention, I can send hilariously ugly “snaps” to my best friends without the risk of giving them blackmail material for future use.
And yet, as much as it pains me to say, this form of communication could be hurting our relationships more than it helps them. When we become reliant on the barrier of a screen to get our messages across, real human interaction is sacrificed. In my case, my new friend and I had become too dependent on the lighting that we could manipulate, the poses that we could make, and the time we could take to think of a witty response. Our real-life interactions were stunted in comparison, so we didn’t even try- we left the getting-to-know-you rituals to the technological sphere and allowed them to be superficial. Images of our lives took the place of conversations as we moved both further and farther into a realm where our previous communication could be deemed meaningless, could be ignored or forgotten, discredited because it wasn’t sealed with a human touch, wasn’t distinguished by eye contact and body language, wasn’t characterized by easy banter or a laugh that bubbled up unscripted.
It seems that we’ve developed this new desire-this need- to let everyone know that we are perfect and that we are doing things all the time. Yet the need has not just manifested itself on Snapchat, it’s everywhere throughout social media.
I have friends who measure their self worth by the number of “likes” they get on their Facebook posts; friends who waste hours of their lives trying to figure out which filter to use for their Instagram picture, ultimately deciding that its not worth the stress and the hassle: if it isn’t perfect, they won’t share their memory. I have friends who retreat to Tumblr where they’re comfortable and safe and can’t be judged; but where they also can’t be fully appreciated, can’t have a natural conversation, can’t be introduced to new perspectives or see the emotions play out across someone’s face.
We are living a stunted life when we only communicate in these ways. We get to know people, sometimes too intimately, but we only get to know the surface of them: we find out their political beliefs through Facebook, music preferences through Spotify, favorite sports teams through Twitter, and see their loved foods splayed across our Instagram feed. No longer are these pieces of our lives precious things that only our best friends remember, they become public knowledge, and the mystery is gone, the thrill of finding out is dulled until it is nonexistent. However the deeper parts of ourselves; our hopes and dreams and desires– things we often don’t share on social media– go unnoticed, and aren’t asked about. While we know more and more about the surface of our friends, we have begun to neglect who they really are.
It’s my mission to change this– it should be our collective mission to step back from our phones and give someone our full and complete attention for ten minutes; prove we are not scared of true human interaction. When we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable to possible awkwardness in order to have a genuine conversation with someone, perspectives and ideas are exchanged, and individuals are given the opportunity to truly get to know one another. We can do it; we can stop the precarious trend towards technology-dependent relationships and work to change the way our generation communicates.