Benjamin Denton-Cardew | 22 November 2018
A grim assessment of the social media society provokes a strong desire to switch off from regular contributor Benjamin Denton-Cardew.
Though I’m the right age to be considered one, I was recently struck by the fact that I don’t meet the usual criteria by which we class someone as a “millenial”. For one thing I find a certain melancholy in the former textile mills of Lancashire as I pass them on the train. Great symbols of what was once our engineering and industrial prowess standing dormant, repurposed as quiet warehouses for storing products purchased online; whooshing by in the blink of an eye - gone from sight as quickly as they were erased in the national memory. These crumbling mills now serve as warehouses for companies like Littlewoods or Amazon, companies whose profits rely on a communicative medium that I take to be by far one of the most corrosive elements of modern life.
Far too often, I find myself checking Facebook; wondering if my friends have messaged me, and worrying about what sort of social interactions I am missing online, completely oblivious to the real world around me and the social interactions that I miss by checking my phone far too often. What started as a useful tool to communicate over long distances has become a substitute for meaningful conversation; it has prevented us from forming the kind of close bonds we used to form in the pre-digital age. If enough people realised this, would platforms like Facebook not surely meet their demise?
Now, I’m not suggesting that companies such as Facebook and Twitter should cease to exist– nor am I arguing that you should all throw your smartphones into Loch Lomond and become a luddite. The issue is that though smartphones are serendipitously convenient, they carry certain consequences. For one thing, they have made our culture ugly; the way we interact with each other, our very basic mannerisms, have been corrupted. They have killed our high streets, and put an end to the social skills around which the communities we do - or should - treasure were formed. Arguing online is something I am probably guiltier of than just about anyone, but plenty of others are guilty also - if not quite to the same extent. Arguing online invariably leads to full on spats that have only ever ended more friendships and relationships than they have ever started - which is absolutely the case for me. Why then do we do it?
I struggle to put my phone down at the best of times. I am forever checking if people have seen content that I send or upload, or checking if my photos and statuses are getting the kind of responses I wish them to have. However, I realise that this is not a healthy relationship to have with technology, and that something must change. But, of course, it isn’t only me who indulges his smartphone too often; whenever I do try to engage in meaningful conversation with someone, their own phone is always there, pinging away. And you just know that part of that person’s attention is turned to their phone; they are never fully with you in the conversation, concerned as they are with other (trivial) Facebook related matters.
Why is it, then, that we find it much easier to have a Facebook conversation than a real-life, face to face chat? Maybe we have lost faith in offline communication because we have lost our faith in ideals. We are tempted to think that today’s world is a world of appetite, where nothing serves any purpose other than a utilitarian one. Something has a value if it has a use; so what is the use in actual conversation if we can have the same online for a fraction of the bother? The digital revolution has engendered a world governed by the useful. Now more than ever we find ourselves questioning the uses of friendship, love, and worship. It seems that we only have friends online, only love online, and worship the very social media platforms that govern us.
This is certainly the case with Tinder. On this virtual meat market, love has been replaced with lust. Love is about giving, but lust is about taking, and we all know towards which of the two Tinder tends. Lust brings ugliness into society, in which one human being treats another like a disposable object. This lust is replicated in the type of “friendship” that we see online, friendships that can, if required, be replaced by another online friendship. Friendships that have no real meaning away from Facebook. If asked “why” we are friends with someone, too often the answer would be that they provide something, and not because of a deeper appreciation of the person as an actual human being in and of themselves. This love for one another is, in my view, something that has been lost long ago in a pre-cyber age. Rarely do we show our appreciation and care for one another online, we only seek to benefit from one another’s existence in our lives.
I would like to convince you that, however entwined your life is with social media, there is an escape. Switch off. Why choose to be in an ugly society of narcissism when you have the opportunity not to be? Clean up your social media, delete those who you compare yourself to, and live your own life on your own terms. If, like me, you feel that social media fosters a culture of ugliness, then take this advice - put down your smartphone and take a break. Go outside. Everything that you do in the fantasy world of the internet will eventually become meaningless. Of course, the fantasy world does impact the real world. To this I say go and live in the real one; spend time on yourself and spend time on the relationships you hold close. The way back from this state of affairs is to not endorse the alienation that smart phones and social media induce; it is to look for the path back, a path I believe involves switching off for at least a few hours a day. Taking the time to see a friend or loved one, not because you ‘need’ anything, but because you are emotionally in touch enough to accept that you just want to spend time with them for the sake of that alone.
Travelling past the boarded up mills of old is a melancholy experience, not because I want to return to the days when children had to work in deplorable conditions, but because they are the symbols of a more reasonable age, one without the populism, pompousness, and the narcissism of the internet. We in our utilitarian world have been tricked by social media into thinking that we cannot just “meet up for the hell of it”, and that everything must have a purpose to make it worthwhile – but I guarantee that whoever you ask first to see - just for the sake of enjoying some quality time - will appreciate the gesture deeply. After all, that sort of gesture is extremely rare these days.
Benjamin Denton-Cardew is a writer with The Medusa Review. Follow him on Twitter @BenDC_
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