Essay

A Eulogy for Social Interaction

Written

September 26, 2017

by Isaac Campbell

Sometimes I hold my phone for so long that my pinky finger starts to hurt. I've messaged him, texted her, and replied to them, yet I'm still tapping for something to do. But that hunger for likes and quick satisfaction is getting old. Wait, not old - exhausting. I wish this were less shallow. The perpetual connection to humankind ought to be meaningful.

Take the Hit

It was recently pointed out to me that there are two groups of people who refer to their customers as "users": app designers and drug dealers. I'd call this ironic except that both groups also have the same agenda: tempt people with an attractive product and then get them addicted. 

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” – Jeff Hammerbacher

The Rise and Fall of Social Media

When Facebook came out it was novel and brilliant and promised a new commodity we could call "Friendship Glue" - connection no matter the circumstances. It still is those things, but it's polluted. This is partially Facebook's fault (who would've thought that commercialism, materialism, and propaganda wouldn't mix well with relationships?), but we the users are also largely at fault. The first year I had Facebook I recall it being a place for friends to engage in interesting conversation and keep each other updated on life. Now my news feed is an algorithmically curated page of memes and arguments and links. Links! Indeed, the backbone of the internet has become the bane of my existence.

Twitter seems to be an even worse platform for link abuse. Businesses and individuals alike are marketing themselves with a tsunami of spammy links, thinking that the right hashtag will attract the right bot to retweet them and raise their follower count to 8,012. Connecting with humans and building relationships requires a carefully-selected "following" list as well as a dedication to genuine interaction on the platform. Some of my personal standards for cutting through the chaos include:

  • Never follow any businesses or groups of any kind. If you want updates about said groups then follow an individual involved in the group. Sometimes it takes a while to find someone within the group who shares updates while remaining an engaging human, but they're worth the time to find.
  • Never follow anyone who primarily shares links. This person is not invested in the people on the platform, they are simply contributing to the shallowness.
  • Never follow anyone who follows thousands of people. It is impossible to actually follow (i.e. keep up with) that many people. This usually happens when someone is trying to attract followers for themselves by following other people. Superficial much?
  • Never follow an egg.
Apparently with the introduction of circles they also removed the egg...

Instagram has been a fairly friendly platform in my experience, but it seems to be gradually becoming a 500px or Flickr - a place for the artsy and crafty to share their photos while candid pics of life are left unposted.

Ultimately, however, the struggle isn't with the platform or the users but rather with the paradigm. Close relationships can't be fostered solely in a semi-public forum; they require private conversation, open vulnerability, and (ideally) physical time spent together.

The Digital Conversation

I've always been a fan of normal-ass phone calls and texting. And while some people complain about friends calling when they could text, I love to be interrupted from my materialistic, career-centered life to enjoy a dialogue in real-time. What could be more important in life?

Technology is also interfering with our private conversations. LinkedIn now provides quick message replies so you don't even have to formulatezd your own.

Yay. Now I don't even have to reply to someone myself.

I've heard Google is working on a similar AI "feature" to learn your lingo so it can suggest complete messages for you as you chat. Is it really any wonder our online conversations are shallow when we sacrifice humanity for convenience? One of the highlights of Apple's iOS 11 announcement was the introduction of animojis. Happy day! Now you don't have to show your face while video chatting because you can hide behind a cat head that mimics your plastic smile.

Blend it all together? Machine-generated faces transferring machine-generated messages. Don't you see? You're not even invested! Your phones are literally holding an inanimate conversation with themselves. Excuse my rolled eyes, facepalm, and dropped jaw because this is ludicrous.

Maybe It's Not the Software

Unfortunately, we the people are the creators of our own software, and we the people are also the users (yes, users). Obviously it's our fault we sacrifice humanity for a quick hit while keeping our emotions in lockdown.

I am the problem. I've designed two niche social platforms, more ads than I can remember, and researched the hell out of users to guarantee addictive experiences. I tout myself online and I judge myself (and others!) based on the like count. I'll stare down my computer until my neck aches and cradle my phone until my pinky hurts because I'm a fucking addict. And I hate it.

Can We Be Friends?

You can heart this, applaud this, or whatever you do to affirm appreciation of my post. I won't lie, it would make me feel good inside. Of course it would. But what I'd prefer is that you comment - engage to make this monologue a dialogue. But what I'd love would be for us to connect and create conversation. But what I long for is for us to be friends. You know, like people who care about each other and talk, not for the likes and superficial satisfaction but for the joy of relationship and comfort of sharing real life.

I must not be alone; my imagination says I'm one in a crowd of primates all wanting the same thing. Just distracted by the digital paparazzi, and disillusioned by the app that says we're friends though we don't even know each other.

So let's converse. I can't guarantee I'll interest you, but I promise you fascinate me. I don't care if my pinky hurts so long as I'm talking to you.

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Author

Isaac

I'm a designer of visual experiences. I do web & app design and branding using my philosophy and process for inherent beauty. Thoughts are my own.

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