This age of social networking has allowed many people to keep in touch, or be kept in touch with, people with whom, a decade ago, they might have all but forgotten. If a member of any of the bigger networks, I’m sure you could testify that being tracked down by old friends, or vice versa, is more of a potentiality now than when you had to spend hours looking through phone directories or discovering when somebody had changed this job for that one.
However, social networking is far from flawless, and that’s hardly a shocking statement. Cyber bullying, for example, punctuates the news with tragic stories of teenagers whose self-esteem was destroyed by people online or via text or email until, finally, the only way out they could see was a dark and final one.
Everything has sped up. We don’t need to write letters and wait a week for correspondence anymore; we can just “message” one another. Yet what this might have done is imposed a pressure on many people – particularly younger people who have become surrounded by the technology at their disposal – to feel, and believe, that they absolutely must be up to date with the whole malarkey. When my friends and I were in our mid-teens, things were different to how I see them now, and that schism in my views will grow wider and wider as I age, I suspect. Five years ago, it seemed natural to reply to texts instantaneously, almost as if summoned; to expect the same was almost a natural feeling, annealed in, and by, the culture, because wherever you looked at fifteen, everybody was texting.
One thing I’ve given some thought to regarding my past with the eye, now, of a third year English & Creative Writing student, is the way language has changed. Changed, perhaps, in an incorrigible way. Language has been desensitised in order to be continuous. When two teenagers are texting one another for five hours on a Saturday afternoon, and then decide to meet in a park to sit on swings and engage in that unavoidable passage of what being a teenager is, they are going to talk in person, aren’t they? The boy is swinging back and forth in a bid to fill the gaps in silence with his talented launching up and down of himself. When, through sheer nervousness, he doesn’t know what to say next for fear of sounding stupid, he doesn’t look at her, he just goes as high as he can. Why? Because we’re males!
Everything is a competition at some point. Our culture dictates that we prove our virility, even from an early age. And if that means being brave and swinging so high your bladder is close to exploding, then fine. So long as it amazes the girl, right? Is she impressed? Probably not. She doesn’t text you for five hours a day because you can make yourself look fearless and stupid at the same time. What worth a man who will be killed by stupid acts of feigned bravery within a week? She cares about what you have to say; she’s a human being like you.
After hours of texting about musical tastes, books, school rumours and how Teacher X is the worst teacher ever, what can still be said in person?
Desensitised superlatives. ‘Awesome’;’ amazing’; ‘unbelievable’. Have a think, you can probably name some more. They get thrown around like tennis balls these days. Nigh on everything has something awesome about it in modern culture, because if it is awesome, it is cool, and that means we should be discussing it. However, the more it is spoken about, the less of a revelation this awe is. You buy a new pair of trainers; are they awesome? In 2013, probably. You agree where you’re meeting your friend in an hour; is the discovery that two human beings have reached an agreement awesome? In 2013, most likely; however, when compared with, say the first aeroplane, or the creation of the light bulb, is a new pair of trainers equal ballast in terms of its “awe factor”?
What do large quantities of awe and amazement and indubitable factuality do to modern conversation? It seems possible that, with the ever-shifting social hierarchies we go through during childhood and high school, where the megalomaniacs wrestle control of friendship groups and the pupils with flesh and blood leadership skills slowly feel their way through, harnessing an empathy with those around them – with all of this, there needs to be the impressive factor. If something is awesome or amazing, no matter how often the word is regurgitated, it acts as a signifier; signifying a topic of discussion, perhaps. A signifier to the person who spoke the superlative, that they are the one speaking right now, give them your utmost attention…and respect. Self-esteem is a big part of who we are in life. When we are teenagers, desperately searching for ourselves, making fists in order to wade through the everyday “shit-happens” element of life to discover who we are, and what we believe in, it matters. An insult can be a hammer blow to the chest if a teenager isn’t in a sparring mood. They can be sent reeling backwards through voids of ridicule and social hilarity. Spinning slowly, tested by everybody’s derision, until, when they pick themselves up, they are nothing but threads.
One element of social networking that can create instances of tension is the frequent interaction that people can have with the life of an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend. When the relationship ends, has it now become more difficult to walk away, with social networks holding onto the last, shattered pieces of whatever remains between you and they? People, because of the internet and networking, probably know more about the little nuances of the everyday lives of others now. If you have an argument on a recorded network or via text, instead of in person, instead of using your voice, be prepared for it to jump up and bite you a day or a week later. Not necessarily because of what you said, but because everybody can see it.
In a time and culture where males and females mingle and bond, interaction is different. Especially in teenage years. At 14 or 15, when you discover your girlfriend or boyfriend talking to a potential challenger across some technological format, what can you do? The conversation is recorded, but it is not yours. You cannot just wander over and stamp your mark, you are helpless. So many people talk now, and can this breed within us a fear? A fear that, in our partner’s mind, our views, our opinions, fail to satisfy their social needs? Are we in a growing age of social paranoia and distrust?
Cue then, the adverbs. Forever, always, never. “We’ll be together forever”; “I’ll never leave you.” Hefty statements when promulgated by a 15 year old, no? These are words that, when gazing into the eyes of your loved one, or even staring at the open conversation window on a screen, reinforce intentions. They state your readiness for commitment. But why? Why, two weeks into a relationship in high school, is there this need? Might somebody feel pressured to throw around these superlatives, these irrefutable declarations of love in order to regain the attention of a partner who is already beginning to address others more and more than two weeks ago, when everything was perfect? When it was just you and they; when the world could have exploded around you both and you would have hardly noticed, so cocooned in love you both were. The bond you had forged in that first kiss, when dry lips touched but the sensation didn’t matter, it was still wonderful. What matters is the closeness – when this happens, nothing else matters. Why then, so young, still, have we found the orator and the rhetorician within us? For what do we make these speeches, standing on a mount with thunder at our backs, affirming that Never! will we allow the bond to be broken? Is it fear? Do we use these words (forever, always) to bait partners into a cage, where only we will share this wonderful set of feelings with them?
Could this prove counterproductive? For some people, always and never might be powerful hardenings of the chains of love (until that period of sadness before the words are spoken to the next lover, and the next); for other people, could these words be like wildfire to animals? Too sudden, too harsh, too present and palpable to be dealt with at that moment.
Language is powerful. Words can build us up, and they can break us down.
Texting (27 Jan 10) via Flickr Creative Commons