Recently a clever video went viral called The Innovention of Loneliness which illustrates some of the modern problems that have been introduced because of the Internet and technology. If you’re a millennial, most of what the video talks about will feel familiar, like the ability to “self-edit” and constantly be plugged-in to our communication platforms. Mark-Anthony Smith of Entitled Millennial wrote about his personal experience of growing up with social media starting with AOL Instant Messenger all the way back in 1998! His experience should also be very familiar to the average millennial. It correlated with my experience as well, and acknowledges that the internet (for good or ill) is an integral part of how millennials grew up.
I thought I would follow up by talking about the video, and some of my thoughts on the impact the internet has had on our ability to relate with each other.
The Self & Community
The video acknowledges at the beginning that “we are social creatures” and we naturally form community. It makes an interesting point that the modern Western value of Hyper Individualization has isolated the individual. The Individual can achieve fulfillment outside of community through: 1. Personal Achievements 2. Wealth 3. Self-Image 4. Consumerism.
“These tools of self-actualization replace familial and community relationships. This has lead to social fabric weakening, and LONELINESS.”
If you introduce online capabilities to the value of Hyper Individualization, the result is more connectivity but also more isolation. Communication platforms are used to promote values like Success, and Self-Image rather than actually building relationships. Online social networks enable relationship QUANTITY over relational QUALITY. A more addicting quality of our online presentation of ourselves is that we have “editing” capabilities. We can begin to actually prefer online interaction because we are our own Public Relations specialists.
The video says that this creates a cycle. We are lonely but afraid of intimacy. Online world offers us three gratifying fantasies:
1. We can give attention to whatever we want. We control our flow of information.
2. We will always be heard. Blogging, tweeting, Facebook, texting.
3. Therefore we are never alone.
The idea that we will never have to be alone is a paradigm shift. As human beings we crave community. Connectivity trumps intimacy. The video concludes “If we are not able to be alone, we are only going to know how to be lonely.”
The first point of the video is spot-on: we are social creatures. Because of this I think socially we will adapt to technology, and have already to a degree. There has already been a social shift in acknowledging this “online social life” phenomenon. The TV show Portlandia satirized how a spontaneous romantic trip to Italy with a new lover appeared amazing and “life-changing” on Facebook, when in reality the trip was an utter, and embarrassing failure. Because of the adjustment to social media, individuals have probably experienced this disconnect between their online appearance and the reality of their own lives. Because we know our own social media platforms are edited, we know to not completely trust the projected image of our “friends” Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds. “It’s all filtered,” we think.
The Future of Intimacy
I’m not a conventional millennial in this aspect: I’m married with 1.5 kids (surprise! I’m pregnant!). I couldn’t find statistics on millennials who are married (feeling lazy!) but I know it’s quite low. Not that marriage is the only means to a quality relationship, I’m just saying even though I’m not single or “unattached” I don’t think I’m just being sentimental is believing that it’s too much a part of our nature to seek out authentic connections. If anything, perhaps millennials will usher in a much needed shift from Hyper-Individualization to more community-oriented, and quality-relationship oriented society.
Perhaps as a generation we are discovering that the “Tools of Self-Actualization” are a bit of a farce: Personal Achievements, Wealth, Self-Image, & Consumerism? How about a good conversation with someone who knows you and cares about you? “All you need is love” the Boomer generation said, but the reality of the values that were passed on to millennials seem to contradict this sentiment. Perhaps the current loneliness epidemic is a good catalyst for a healthy change to prioritize relationships.
If this shift to prioritizing authentic relationships doesn’t happen though, the video might be right that millennials are destined to be the Loneliest Generation. Like the video says, connectivity is a powerful replacement to intimacy, and creates the illusion of being heard, and faux-community. But it’s only a substitute that can’t meet the needs of an individual for long, so I think most millennials will eventually take the risk of trying to build real intimacy. In my opinion, the fear of loneliness will trump the fear of intimacy, though it could be a longer and harder battle for this generation than in the past.