Times change. Remember when socialising was meeting up with people you had known for a long time and passing the afternoon or evening pleasantly chatting about shared interests or memories, or maybe going on a day trip together? Do you remember when you were a kid how you played with actual toys, hung out in the playground or rode your bike with the other kids until your mom called you in for dinner?
And now? Communication between 'best' friends has been reduced to one-line Facebook updates on a wall that all their other friends can see...while kids text each other to meet up to play computer games online...
So what happened to us? How did we become so disconnected from each other? Surprisngly, the answer might have its roots from as far back as the 1960's.
In 1966 Andy Warhol made a film called Chelsea Girls filming various acquaintances with no script or direction given. Radio Times Guide to Film 2007 called him the 'one to blame for Reality TV.'
Reality TV was broadcast as long ago 1973 in the US and 1974 in the UK where real-life families going through personal tribulations were filmed for documentaries and broadcast on television over several weeks. Soon after that game shows became extremely popular, shows like The Dating Game and The Gong Show took ordinary people from society and put them on television where they sacrificed their dignity to win prizes and small time celebrity within their community. In the 80s chat shows like Donahue and Oprah opened the doors for many more talk shows where anonymous citizens could talk on television about their personal trials and tribulations, with Jerry Springer topping the heap with his famous chair throwing guests.
Soon after, in 1992 MTV launched The Real World and Reality TV as we know it was finally delivered to the world. Eight years later Big Brother was aired for the first time, followed throughout the decade by every possible combination of make-an-ordinary-person-a-reality-TV-star. How did this transformation of television being something one merely passively viewed to something one actually had the opportunity to be in change the way we behave?
Well, let's look at what television shows were the most successful. The biggest earners were those with the most outrageous competitors who were not afraid to take bad behaviour to the limit. It became a very small step from seeing bad behaviour and condemning it to thinking if one wanted to be famous they had to be outrageous and offensive.
Enter the Internet. Things picked up exponentially from 2000 onwards. Over the last decade the explosion of sites for social connections have increased to mind boggling levels. At its earliest stages, it was usually for dating, although Classmates has been around since the late 90s. Facebook arrived a mere few years ago effectively killing My Space where 'friends' were complete strangers and you thanked them for the 'add'. Facebook's 'Connect with friends and old school mates' line took the sleaze out of My Space; Facebook was clean and for everyone...unlike My Space that seemed to be filled with wannabe rock stars and young girls obsessed with posting photos of themselves in their underpants.
So we all signed up on Facebook, posted our photos and made tentative little status updates while searching our minds for all the names we had forgotten and adding them like crazy. A few years later, Facebook has turned into something else entirely. Plagued with federal court cases against it for continually breaking privacy laws, many people are closing their accounts (and interestingly Facebook makes it difficult to do, as there is no clear way to delete your profile, you need to go to Google to find that out). But...Facebook gives everyone the opportunity to be 'famous', by posting photos of themselves and having 24 hour access to telling others the absolute minuatae about what they are doing if they feel so inclined. And everyone likes to be a little famous, even if it's only in their head.
But are we famous? Is anyone really even listening anymore? Who is looking at your profile with sincere interest and not just general nosiness?
Perhaps one day we will see that no one online really cares about anyone because each of us are too busy tending to our own little virtual world...perhaps we will look at the way we socialise with new eyes, and realise that our most committed relationship has become the one with our laptop or smartphone.
Raising our heads we look around the world we have been missing. We turn off our machines, go to the door, put on our coat, grab our keys and go out...to talk.
Originally published on Paradigms Bend Nov 22 2010