It’s old news that the art of social interaction is sort of lost on our generation. It’s become the same kind of contrived thing old people say, in the same vein as “kids these days don’t know the meaning of hard work/the dollar/a phonograph” or “get off my lawn.” It’s not a new observation and it’s not all that insightful.
But yeah, I’ll make it anyway. Sort of.
It all starts with the newest trend of talking but not really talking online — what I call (a) non-communication in shorthand — New Paltz Secrets and New Paltz Crushes. In the same vein as Likealittle.com, the bizarrely stalker-grade website that promoted anonymously describing the people you were attracted to and where you saw them, Social Moth (am I dating myself?) or Craig’s List Missed Connections, these sites let students creep and then externalize their creepiness on the internet.
These sites are basically breeding grounds for chronic over-sharers and the lonely, socially delayed. The vast majority of these posters wouldn’t speak to a stranger (whether to compliment, insult or ask the time) in the real world without horrendous discomfort. Yet, on these pages it’s all too easy for them to make aggressive and vaguely offensive declarations.
Now, as people, we’re a solipsistic bunch. But we have this neat little additional flaw of raging narcissism piled on top of our already self-centered condition that makes us pretty damn insufferable. Not only do we have this crippling inability/lack of desire to really communicate with other humans (in the transactional way that matters), but we also feel that all of our me-themed thoughts are worthy of/entitled to mass broadcast, attention and praise.
That’s why we have a dashboard and profile-based culture of scrolling through the menial pontifications of people we’ve barely spoken to in real life. Even if we’re not really taking part in the social parts of social media, we’re constantly putting out our own autobiographical content.
It doesn’t matter if that all-too-human yearning for interaction, company rears its head; we only know how to shout into the dark and hope someone cares enough to shout back.
I can’t harshly condemn those masses yearning to breathe free from social anxiety and those who stay where it’s safe, huddled in front of their computer screens. From our weird obsessions with Tamagotchis as children to the compulsive refreshing of our Facebook and Tumblr dashboards, we never really had a chance to value eye contact and verbal gymnastics over little red squares and notification alarms.
After all, people are scary and foreign and outside our comfortable skull-shaped worlds and it’s too damn easy to resort to communicating in the low-risk way.
These anonymous means of putting ourselves out into the ether are awfully low risk, but the false sense of safety fostered by the computer won’t last. Eventually we’ll have to look up from our screens and meet the other bloodshot eyes of the world. I’m just not so sure if we’ll know what to say.