Much of our existence has become the result of algorithms and conglomerations of pixels and meta data. Whether the singularity is coming or not, technology is already taking up more of our time, painting more of our portraits, and stripping away more of our humanly functions.
It used to be that we got to know each other by chance or circumstance. We’d meet someone new and little by little disclose information about ourselves as was comfortable and appropriate. It was almost taboo to dig around online for information about someone you’ve just met. It was considered unfair to obtain knowledge that was not meant to be shared with us, yet.
We wanted to get to know each other in person, in conversation, in experience and with our instincts. Now, we’re almost all data with only a hint of human. Our introductions begin online. It has now become the social norm to prolong the instance of receiving an impression of someone met in person, until researched online.
Let’s say I’m at a party and meet an interesting man, John. We get to chatting and after twenty minutes, we’ve shared a few laughs and learned a bit about each other. The party ends, we part ways. How long until we look each other up online? Rather than exchanging numbers and planning on meeting again, to learn more about each other, we dig for clues that we can later put together to pull up a Facebook page or Instagram handle after leaving the party without so much as a phone number.
On the way home, we’ll both Google and graph search and click through as many photos as we’re permitted to see. We will accept any and all information to satiate our curiosity. Is this impatience to be attributed to our age? Us twenty somethings hear that deafening tick of the lifeline clock and can’t bear to waste time getting to know someone who doesn’t appear perfect in pixels. Or, are we impatient because technology allows us to be?
Our parents worried about us with Sesame Street, the segments were getting shorter and shorter, allowing our attention spans to shrivel. And in those twenty years, technology has granted us the privilege and curse of having no attention span, at all.
Sure, it was nice to meet John, but why wait a few days for a second meeting when I can make a judgment call based on his cyber footprint? After only a few clicks, still only blocks away from the party, I have gathered that John went to an impressive college, is a die-hard Giants fan, hails from New Jersey, loves dogs, is close with his family, but oh- red flag, he’s very religious, he was in a fraternity, likes Fox News and un-ironically claims The Fast and Furious was snubbed for an Oscar. Now all of these opinions I’ve made, both positive and negative have replaced the initial impression he made on me. Our laughs were booted to make room for the unimpressive data I foraged from the internet.
By the time I’m home, I’ve written off John. So what if he seemed smart and kind and interesting? The data I found holds more weight and not only allows me, but encourages me to be unfairly judgmental. And what did John think of me? Did he Google my name to find out I write depressing poetry and opt to pass on a sad sap? Did he Facebook me to see I have a Maltese and deem me too prissy? Or did he Instagram me to find me too wacky? Or, did John simply send a request with hopes to make contact in effort to set a second meeting?
My mother and father have negative zero things in common other than the fact that they are both instituted in the same marriage of over 40 years. Can you imagine if they had Facebook and Instagram in the 60s? I wouldn’t be here because they would have looked at each other’s profiles and never spoken again.
Now the inverse of this chance meeting is the filtered choice one makes on the internet. When we develop feelings for someone we’ve met online, we’ve really only developed feelings for their online persona. These people then are held to exude exactly what we’re impressed with online, offline. I’ve met people online who have been less than impressed with me offline, but I’ve also met people who were pleasantly surprised.
For some of us, we are more our true selves online because the distance between screens gives us comfort. It’s hard to be yourself if you’re uncomfortable and many people are not comfortable in social settings. Plenty of incredibly dazzling specimens of the human population appear to be bland and banal in a first face-to-face meeting. And some of us use the internet to create a persona that is not a reflection of who we are, rather who we want to be. So which way will we sway? Will we continue to build identities that stray from our realities, or will we use the internet to tell the truth?
Once, not too long ago, a picture could tell a thousand words, now, a picture tells it all.