I’ve always had an intense fascination with people and watching how they interact with one another. Even at a very young age, I would sometimes posit some random position on a topic to someone just to see what the response would be. I learned when I was very young that you can say damn near anything to someone and they will take it as fact-based simply on how confidently you say it. Before I ever studied propaganda and persuasion, I knew the basics of how it worked just on my own field experiments I’ve carried out my entire life. So naturally, when the internet came along I was hooked on watching this virtual ant farm of people interacting with each other all at once. A cacophony of chatter all around the world done in complete silence.
When I met my ex-husband in late 1996 early 1997 it was through an AOL chatroom. This was prior to dating sites. People still used personal ads and you paid for your internet time by the minute…over your PHONE LINE. I thought to have a pink see-through pager was the shit, but now I could talk to people all over the world from the comfort of my living room? This was awesome! The age of the internet had truly arrived.
After our separation and divorce in 2009, I found that the world had changed a lot in terms of courtship. People seemed to not want to wait to get to know you before they tried to sleep with you to determine if you were worthy of dating. Facebook was still a fairly new venture, and it was there that I first began to receive private messages from married or otherwise coupled male acquaintances on my friend list. I had never experienced anything like that before, but then I had married as practically a child. What did I know? I tried dating sites. I would change up the verbiage in my profiles and would see how they would elicit different responses. I was always confused most by men who would get so angry at me for either not responding, or responding but not responding the way they wanted. I’ll admit, I’ve had a few scares.
In 2010, I went back to school for my Bachelor’s degree. I chose Communications because my sister didn’t want me to go into Forensic Psychology. She feared I would be placed for my preceptorship in a sex-offender prison. After looking over the descriptions of other programs available, Communications seemed to be right up my alley. Entering into a degree field heavily studied and mostly theory, I read and wrote a lot of research papers. I began to use my experience online with men and with dating and then just social media as a whole and I slowly began to see a pattern over time; connections to things I studied and things that I experienced. I delved into Computer Mediated Communications even more so in my graduate studies and what I’ve come away from all of my knowledge (which I will admit- I JUST got my Masters so no I have no delusions that I’m any kind of expert) was this:
The internet has stolen our happiness. It’s stolen our contentedness. It has stripped away and consumed what is real and beautiful about our lives- each other.
This isn’t just my personal conjecture, I actually do have some evidence to go by on this subject which I will try to explain as concisely as possible my theory on why this is:
When I was growing up, if you wanted to reach me to talk to me you had to pick up the phone to do it. I might not be there. You might have to try back. If you wanted to go out with me, you had to screw up the courage to actually ask–in person–with your voice. You could actually go places and interact with people with a modicum of privacy. We didn’t have as many choices for coupling since we relied on proximity. You typically dated or married someone you met through work or school or church or maybe a random encounter in your own city. You had dreams and aspirations like anyone else, but they lived in your head and not in your line of vision.
Then the internet happened.
The internet is one of the single greatest inventions of mankind. Think of it. All of human history and the answer to any question you could possibly have all on a tiny computer you carry around with you everywhere you go. I believe it is also one of the worst inventions of mankind.
When I was growing up, people had high school reunions. They still do have high school reunions, but they are no longer about catching up with each other. I imagine they are just largely ceremonial rites of passage parties we now hold for ourselves. Lord knows, we all already know every single movement each other makes right down to announcing when our toddlers poop. Facebook fixed the need for reunions. Now we could paint any life that we wanted to be portrayed for mass consumption. Studies have shown that those who are highly engaged in social media tend to be less happy overall in their personal lives. (*I’m not going to cite this since it’s my personal blog, but if you want references please message and I can provide them.) Those highly engaged in social media are constantly inundated with updates about other’s lives and when you’re constantly confronted with the success of your peers, you may start to compare. You may start to self-censor. You may start to make things sound better than they really are.
You might lose your authenticity by trying to make things seem more perfect than they really are. I think what we have lost is the beauty of imperfection; the beauty of opening up to someone and being fallible and human with them. We seek a reality that doesn’t exist, and we reject the beauty in our own existence.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So, to circle back we used to meet people in our own communities, then our communities became global communities. At first glance, one might not see the issue with this. We are more connected to one another than ever before in the history of mankind. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Well, we’re fucking with our personal happiness and messing with the delicate balance of how humans have expressed their sexuality and propagated for millennia. Yes, I’m going to delve into human sexuality a little bit.
For centuries, we courted those we met through organic interaction. We might have some choice in terms of mates (some having more choices than others as is the way of mammals in general), but overall the general pool of potential options was small comparatively. Now we can literally date someone virtually on another continent. We are overwhelmed with choice. In a study that has been replicated with similar results using jelly, it was discovered that when two tables were set up with jellies- one with many choices, one with only a few- people were drawn to and perused the table with more choices available, but they made fewer purchases. The table with fewer choices had a higher rate of purchase. The idea behind this being that when we are presented with so many choices we agonize over making the RIGHT choice; the PERFECT choice. Because what if it’s not perfect? What if something better is out there? Better wait it out and string this person along so I’m not alone; keep myself open to a better more perfect choice to come along.
In doing this, we often overlook happiness in front of us. We overlook good choices seeking the perfect choice. We make ourselves miserable looking at what others have or say they have or could have. We compare our lives to others and we find ourselves wanting. It reminds me of the line from Silence of the Lambs, “We covet what we see every day.”
This now brings me to our current state of affairs. Tinder. Match. Grinder. Plenty of Fish. Facebook. Instagram–( Yes, even Facebook and Instagram)– we live in a world of constant swiping left and right on people based solely on their photos and a few lines of their profiles (if we even get that far since we are so consumed with instant gratification of desires, because, well…the internet.) And in my research for papers I wrote in college on the subject I found that when it comes to online dating sites, attractive people with low dating anxiety tend to flock to them because of the ease in communication and the magnitude of choice available. Online dating for attractive successful people is like shooting fish in a barrel. But what about Joe Blow who doesn’t have stellar genetics, has always had trouble talking with women and probably would have gotten himself a woman out of high school to settle down and marry and have kids- guess what? He likes internet dating, too- FOR THE SAME REASON- ease of communicating with others. However, those less attractive and successful with high dating anxiety are now left more so high and dry than ever before in history- and they’re kind of pissed about it. For centuries a guy without the best genes could probably have secured himself a mate, except for the internet. Now all the attractive people are not only taking up all the most attractive mates, they are also taking the potential mates of the not so genetically favored breeding stock. This new subset of men who can’t seem to find women with which to procreate or at least practice have now become what they call “Involuntary Celibate” or “Incel” aka the “Beta Male”.
But remember we have global communities now, right? And we can set the algorithms to show us only the information and opinions and things we desire or covet. We can literally block out the rest. We can seek out others to commiserate. We form groups and forums and we bitch and moan about our problems or we argue with words on a screen. In doing so we lose the non-verbal humanity that comes with communication. We have hashtag activism and more support for women online now than ever, and suddenly Susie who never thought she was that attractive or valuable is seeing herself as empowered, and she’s not going to take the Beta Male bullshit anymore.
When I sit back and I look at it from the 50,000ft view, all we have done is plug ourselves into a matrix of perfection and seeing others as their political views or what they do for a living or how perfect their kids look or their houses or their vacations…
and we are making ourselves MISERABLE.
The other day I was sitting on my back porch drinking a cup of coffee. As I sat in the morning air I saw a man walking a small child in a stroller through the parking lot. This man “looked” like a stereotypical “redneck”. He was an older gentleman, with an unkempt appearance, and I’m sure I could have made a thousand critical observations about who he was a person based solely on what he looked like.
But I paused and I really looked at him. How nice of him to take the time to take the baby for a stroll in the morning air. It was a nice day. He obviously cares for this baby. I always like to take my baby for a stroll when he was younger. We are similar, not different. There may be differences, but when you seek the humanity in others you will find commonality more so than not.
We live in a world where it’s honestly no longer feasible to disconnect. We are caught in the web, and I have mulled this over in my brain for a long long time. How do we get ourselves out of this mess?
By letting go of perfection. By letting go of how you think it should be, and living the life that you are currently living. By seeing each other as people again. By getting to know each other again without the vitriol and labels. By seeking first the humanity in others.
Life isn’t perfect. No one in life is perfect. In trying to fake our lives into perfection we build our castles on sand.
It’s ok to be a mess.
It’s ok to fall apart.
It’s ok to not be ok.
We need to stop searching for something that doesn’t exist and embrace the absolute beauty and perfection that is the imperfections of our lives.
Be more authentic. See others with mercy. You have to give mercy to get it.
We can take our happiness back. We just have to cut the bullshit.