The follow up to the first part of this column was going to continue on with social media, as it applies to promotion for the modern artist; however, the untimely death of a friend has inspired me to start from scratch, and explore the evolution of relationships.
I believe that we are all active participants, in what future sociologists will likely categorize as an evolutionary shift. The boundaries and definitions of human interactions and relationships are changing, and sometimes we feel the strain of these growing pains more than others. We must acknowledge that the relationships we have with machines (e.g. mobile devices, tablets, computers) is changing how we interact as a species.
Personally, it has become customary to assume that a missed cell phone call was the result of a ‘pocket-dial’ rather than someone attempting to speak to me. The use of my voice with my friends and family has decreased drastically over the past decade. The advent of call-waiting, caller I.D., and SMS messaging has impacted human communications in ways that I believe will be studied in great depth in the near future. There have been some studies to date, but the shift is still in its infancy.
To expand on this idea, what is the quality of the relationships that we are developing with others in this strictly digital environment? As humans, are we now building stronger attachments to the people we interact with online, than to those we meet In Real Life (IRL)? We, like our ancestors, are pioneers of a new frontier. The digital age has caused the obsolescence of numerous 20th century inventions. Ones that were touted as major accomplishments for humanity. There are especially many antiquated media items that qualify: cassette tapes, floppy disks, compact discs, and desktop computers. Shinier, newer, hipper, digital, virally marketed items have replaced all. It is only natural that our relationships succumb to the tides of change as well, right?
I have developed many relationships that exist solely in the digital realm. I have connections with, what I assume to be real humans, built entirely upon digital transmissions. Globalization has made the world flat. We can now easily communicate with someone halfway around the world with simple keystrokes. We can extend this interaction further with the exchange of cell phone numbers, which are essentially our electronic leashes. We are tethered to the Internet, and when we are not, we can feel the pangs of disconnection more acutely than we do the distance from our own immediate family members.
I have been an active member of the social media community for a decade now, and I have built relationships that have endured. Most I have never sat down with in person and had a conversation with face-to-face. This does not lessen their importance, in fact I believe that it affords a level of intimacy that is harder to attain IRL. Why is this? That is what I am asking myself as I write. What is the difference between relationships IRL and our digital ones? Even now, I cannot be certain I have any answers.
I learned of the death of one of my digital comrades in exactly the same manner I do all current events and news, via the Internet. I logged onto a site, began going about my admin duties, and then saw something in a feed that gave me pause. More accurately, it made my heart sink. It was three simple letters attached to the name of someone who had become a regular part of my daily interactions. Funny what R.I.P. does when it is in reference to someone you know, and believed to be alive, until that exact moment. In this age of instant gratification and information, I was able to quickly confirm that my friend was gone, and then I spent an entire day contemplating it all.
This lovely person and I had become fast friends, thanks to technology. We had been affiliated with the magazine for the exact same amount of time, both having premiered in its 10th issue. A fact I did not know until I was searching the archives for his work as a posthumous celebration of his contributions, which were numerous, and not confined to the pages of Paraphilia.
Over the last several months, I had been in continuous contact with him, and we had shared many tales asynchronously via our devices. The other was never more than a text message, email, DM, or chat box away. Phone calls were sadly few, and in fact there was only one. We had both promised to rectify this, just as soon as we had the time. That never happened. Now I am left with a few voice messages from missed calls, and a few lengthy recordings of background noise from pocket-dials, which I cannot bring myself to delete.
What I have attempted to discern since his passing is why has the loss of this person, who I had never met, caused a palpable void in my life? Is it his wonderful personality that I miss, or is it the constant interaction and activity associated with him? This realization has been somewhat upsetting to me because I want to know that it is the loss of the person, but I would be remiss to say I am sure.
What I can say, with great certitude, is that this person left behind an extended family that his immediate family may have no knowledge of. And if they are unaware of this digital life, then to whom does his great body of work belong to? What becomes of our digital selves and footprints once we are gone? Another of the many yet-to-be-answered questions, which are uniquely 21st century, or more accurately, First World Problems. There exists monitoring services that will wipe the content of one’s digital life, for a fee of course, but is that the answer?
I believe that just as the English language has devolved into a colorful mixture of text, l33t, cypher, and grammatically horrifying jumbles of words, human interactions are heading down the same path. Text is replacing speech, and so very much is getting lost in translation. The subtle cues that exist in our body language, inflections and intonations of our voices are missing from the majority of modern communications. I believe we can all recall at least one interaction that was taken completely out of context because emotions were projected onto it. We have all assuredly seen the handiwork of a Troll. Who would likely never say such things if they had to face the person they were directing their hatred towards. Maybe they would, I really don’t know, but I believe the anonymity of the Internet emboldens many cowards to ‘speak their minds.’ Rather easy to write a check with your words that your ass cannot cash when you are hiding behind a computer.
So where does that leave us? What exactly do our digital friendships amount to? As I previously mentioned, I have no answers, only more questions. I hope that we can start a dialog about these issues, and examine the amount of time we are dedicating to our online selves; Time that is finite. Has it all become so horrific that we must escape? Are we better nurtures of our Tamagotchi® friends than of our immediate families? One need only to go out in public to realize how many Device Zombies there are.
My friend and I often spoke about singularity and the loss of our humanity. We had a lot of discussions, all conducted electronically. I do not believe this lessens their importance, but I am again left with more questions than answers. I do know that my friend, Robert Earl Reed, would have been amused by this piece. He would have told me it was good because he encouraged everyone to create, and to be free from the worry of judgment. Just get it out, flaws and all, create, now. He stressed how very short our time in this world is, and he lived life on his own terms, which I admired. His passion for music and writing were obvious, and he touched the lives of many. The one certainty I have at this moment is that there is a huge void left in my digital and real worlds since he left, and I know that I miss my friend.
Until next time kiddies.
dixē.flatlin3 is a pistol-packing mama from the American Wild West. Having survived more travails than Christian in the Pilgrim’s Progress, she decided to get mean and take it to the world. Honing her acid-sharp wit on MySpace, Facebook, and later Twitter, she became known for compacting volumes worth of vitriolic social commentary into one-liners, which she would throw off with the abandon of a Vegas stripper. She is a long-time contributor to Paraphilia Magazine and also runs its Twitter account. With Dixē Ex Machina she shares her insights into the vagaries of social media, technology, business, and 21st century communications: the good points, the bad points, and suppositions as to where it all might be headed.