Alone we stand together

April 23, 2015

Cultural mapping: Relationships

I don’t think anyone would disagree that technology has an enormous influence on our lives!  And for the better or worse it’s here to stay… so we had better get a grip on it, and take charge now.  The big question is how…  what elements do we want to embrace, and what elements do we want to walk away from, or try to control? One of the biggest areas of influence the digital age has had on society is its ability to transform the way we connect with one another.

Hands up who has stood at a train station recently, looked around and seen everyone plugged in? Perhaps you have looked up from your computer to see the familiar white cords dangling from people’s ears, wrapping your colleagues up in a bubble of solitude.

Image source: Flickr user, Sascha Kohlmann, Woman with Headphones

The bubble of technology means that whilst surrounded by people you can be totally alone.  Wrapped up in a world you have personally curated, or talking to friends you have chosen carefully.  Meaning we don’t have to interact, understand, or connect with those who don’t share our point of view or values.  Now this has great benefits in building personal happiness, but what benefits will it have on society as a whole?

If we have the ability to switch off instantaneously from what doesn’t please us, how will we develop and foster empathy and understanding? It’s a big and important question, especially when you think about subsequent generations and how technology will colour the way they view and interact with the world.

We are already starting to see signs of how digital connections are changing us as a whole. People are having a harder time connecting and forming relationships. Experts like Sherry Turkle and the HeyHuman Group say that people are loosing the ability to connect ‘in the moment’, because the online world gives you the ability to slowly build connections, in a safe comfortable space where people can curate their answers. Is this the reason we are seeing a rise in new professions and services to help people develop better connections physically and emotionally, or for some buy a substitute in their absence of ‘authentic intimacy’?

You can now hire a Professional Cuddler who will come into your home and literally just snuggle. Mashable recently published an article on ’11 tips for breaking up with someone on social media’, and the latest offer in the biometric revolution is an app called pplkpr - an app that measures your physical reaction to friends, colleagues and family with the specific purpose of helping you to choose which relationships are good for you, making you happy and which you should back away from slowly. 

Courtesy of pplkpr:

There is also a quiet rise in those living apart together. Committed couples are maintaining separate residences. Saying no to co-habitation. The media, backed by academics, argue that separation is good for long-term relationships. Many say that couples that live apart tend to engage in more novel and exciting, life expanding activities. That the time and space alone makes us appreciate and put more effort into the time we spend together, as well as giving us greater personal freedom. 

We also see the trend towards people (especially women) embracing singledom as a choice rather than a failure to grow.  Where once people were looking for ways to solve their ‘problem’, increasingly people are looking for how to enjoy every moment of it. Many women are choosing singledom, either for the time being or forever.  Statistics show a steep rise in single motherhood and home ownership.  The conversation has now firmly shifted away from loneliness, and is increasingly becoming a conversation about the belief that true happiness can be found in being and staying single.  This is giving women greater independence and empowering them to embrace life on their terms.

The question is will this trend towards ‘being alone together’ actually drive greater fun and happiness in our lives or will it mean we lose the ability to develop true intimacy, ultimately tearing us apart?

We all have a choice. We can resign ourselves to living our lives on and through technology or take a stand and reinvest in authentic experience – re-engaging with the physical world to build more meaningful relationships.  We need to remind ourselves that good things take effort.  The easy way out is not always the best.  Technology makes things easier but it makes us question what are we losing as a result.