We live in a rapidly changing world. The technology we use to communicate with our friends, family, and even employers is constantly being revolutionized. We communicate more quickly, more frequently, and more informally than any generation before us, and this trend toward more technology continues.
The pace at which the modern world moves has long been a source for concern. There is talk of how modern communication ruins our social relationships or destroys intimacy. It is true that today’s twenty-somethings are more frequently single. I do not, however, believe that technology must be a force for evil in our social lives. For every relationship ruined by pre-date Facebook stalking, there is a text message keeping a long-distance relationship alive. For every superficial Facebook profile, there is a group linking friends who now live far away from each other.
I’d like to propose the idea that the fast-paced, technology-based, unofficial relationships of today can be just as much a force for good as a detriment to close relationships. Technology is what you make of it.
The casual nature of modern “relationships” is frequently lamented for lacking the charm and planning of relationships from generations past, but perhaps a low-pressure hangout can contribute to the quality of a relationship instead of taking away from it. Casual group settings can put someone at ease much more than a formal dinner date; the informality could, in the end, lead to a more genuine relationship. Frequent communication—through texting, casual run-ins, Facebook messages—is just as intimate as the guarded, formal wording that was typical to traditional courtship back in the day (think of a Jane Austen novel and imagine trying to seduce someone using that type of language).
Our generation is not any less capable of connecting with each other, nor is our less wordy communication any less meaningful. Today’s technology simply enables a different version of expressing personality.
Technology does away with many of the limitations set on relationships in previous generations. With Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, and texting, distances that in the past would have torn relationships apart are closed instantly. A good friend of mine has maintained a long-distance relationship for months through the use of Skype, WhatsApp (an app that enables texting between different countries using Wi-Fi), and Facebook. I personally have made and maintained friends through frequent texting—after coming to college, I only grew closer to my best friend from high school because of the communication options offered to us with the text message.
The fact is that phatic interactions, so crucial to a feeling of closeness, are enabled through new communications technology. Often what makes an interaction with someone so rewarding is not the specific information conveyed to that person but the chemistry between the two people connecting. The ability to banter meaninglessly with someone is as important to me as our ability to discuss deep ideas. Instant, frequent communication enables this type of banter from hundreds or thousands of miles away, keeping phatic communication channels alive and well even when distance prevents a personal interaction.
The point is, we live in a different world from the one our parents grew up in, but the people who inhabit it are largely the same. People are still people. The mechanisms we use to connect may be constantly changing, but the underlying human motivations and desires remain the same. Love is not cheaper today than it was for our parents or grandparents, and friendships are no less meaningful than they were in past generations. People are as they have always been: there are those who choose to employ existing technology to bring more attention to themselves, and there are those who choose to use today’s technology to form more meaningful, close relationships with those who matter to them.
In the end, technology is what you make of it. The human condition remains the same.