As with any major advancement that has befallen society, the advent of the smartphone has left us divided into the naysayers and the zealots. And as is the case with most dilemmas big or small, I fall somewhere in the middle. While I do believe the smartphone has improved our existence in a bunch of ways, I also feel it carries serious danger, that should not be taken lightly. As such, it's definitely an advancement. Towards what, however, remains to be decided.
One thing about the smartphone has been bugging me, though, and it's the constant connection it obligates us to. Now, from the get-go, you can argue that's not true, when you want to disconnect, you just turn it off. But we both know that's not the long and short of it. When's the last time you switched off your phone, and not because it had a techy problem? If the answer was in the past few months, I can but congratulate you, though you and I both know you're a member of a very restricted species. Ask the average young person this question, and you will not get an "in the last few months" answer, believe me. Even if they do, through some miracle, acknowledge that their smartphone is bad for them, they'd rather download a study app or a meditation app or a sleep app. Actually making the device take charge and say to them "enough is enough".
I speak from outside the crowd, though as I'm well aware, I'm deeply rooted inside it myself.
And when we're not away from our phones, a phrase that has grown increasingly more rare, we're trapped in this game of continuous connection. Our friends and acquaintances can see if we're online or off, and if we be off, they know there's only a very limited amount of time one's socially permitted to be "off". The time limit itself varies from person to person, and from relationship to relationship, but we all have one. It may be an hour, it may be a day, but if someone hasn't texted/called you back in that timeframe, something is seriously wrong. And more often than not, it's not their personal safety you worry about, but your own feelings.
If they haven't responded, does this mean they don't like me? They must have seen this message by now. No one's without their phone for this long, and if they are, what kind of creep are they?
Down the rabbithole the sender goes, and it's no walk in the park for the respondent, either. Or rather, the one not replying. It might sound strange, since not all people are like this. Some genuinely do not care. And yet more and more, no matter how smooth and carefree in their personal life, become terribly anxious in front of a call/text they don't know how to handle.
We seem to have forgotten that we're allowed, almost without the fear of reprimand, to ignore people.
I know, I know, it's a revolutionary idea, but hear me out. Avoiding unpleasant interactions can be as easy as overlooking a bunch of text on your screen. Don't tell me you don't do that. You probably do it constantly. Maybe while reading the news, 'cause otherwise I don't know how this shitshow of a world can be explained. So ignoring someone you don't want to talk to isn't that hard, or at least, it wouldn't be, were it not for the social construct we've created around digital conversations.
Young people, I've noticed, become incredibly anxious when it comes to not talking back to someone. I don't mean randos on the Internet. I mean people you know, in some capacity or another, and feel obligated to talk to. Before, it was fairly easy, I imagine, you could just screen their call. But now, there's no such thing. Even if you don't look at the message right away, they'll know you're aware of it. They'll see when you were last online, and even if you're one of the "clever" ones who hide that information, they are still capable of a logical deduction. Which means you'll have to reply eventually.
Otherwise, you'll seem a complete dickhead. Even if you're not interested in maintaining a relationship with that person. Obviously, in that case, different rules apply. But I know many people, among which myself, who text back just because they're afraid of what the other person might think if they don't.
It might be exes, it might be old, but lost connections from high school, it might be creepy old bosses. I'm guessing by now you've put a face to the name.
So why do we do it?
Are we so desperate to be liked, that we'll waste our valuable energy and time on someone who we ourselves deem unworthy? I'd hope not. But then, what? Perhaps it's the constant attainability that our devices make us feel obligated to. I mean, I have a phone. I can get your message. Does that mean I must necessarily reply?
Personally, I think the exact motivation varies from case to case. In some, it's validation. For sure, a large quantity of this type of unrequited digital reach-out comes from undesirable suitors. And we text back, girls more, I think, but also boys. Because it makes us feel wanted, and maybe we think that's innocent and harmless, but it's not. With every validating like, heart, comment, or text you feed your ego with, you're making yourself a little weaker. The day will come when you won't be able to stand up on your own two feet without someone's approval. And you'll have no one to blame but yourself.
In other cases, and I think this is the more serious collective problem, it's the void of loneliness we have spun around ourselves. We've become so isolated, not just in our screens, but in our heads, that we'll go weeks without making eye contact with another human being. But digital doesn't count, so when someone acknowledges us in the digital space, we feel grateful, because just for a hot minute, we get to share the loneliness with another individual across the virtual divide. Even though maybe, we didn't care that much for him to begin with. Still counts... or does it?
Our screens have got us convinced we owe it to society to be constantly reachable. But if we delve into the bare marketing basics that any fool can master, we learn that something that is freely and continuously available loses value.
In some relationships, making yourself harder to come by will increase your value.
In relationships you don't wish to pursue, it will send a message, and most importantly, it will save your precious neurons, ego, and time.
Only you can know which relationship is worth replying to.