Whenever I hear about anyone in a new relationship, my first question is always, instantly, “how did you meet?” In the tech age of 2022, It’s safe to assume most couples meet online, but on the rare occasion, it’s a friend of a friend, a former flame or, god forbid, a vodka-induced meeting in a bar, I can’t help but slip into a jealous chorus of “you mean you met… IRL?!” In this weird Instagram age, the concept of an organic meeting is so alien to us that it’s become something we’ve put on a pedestal, something sacred and set apart from the prescriptive digital theatrics that seems to have become an inescapable and unspoken part of online dating.
With hoards of people only ever a click away, the humble meet-cute seems to have died a sad and lonely death. Despite all my protestations, if someone were to approach me IRL, I can say for certain that I’d chalk them down to being a weirdo and be posting on Instagram about it within 10 minutes. Perhaps it’s a case of wanting what you can’t have and on top of that, it’s easy to envisage the grass being greener if you know there’s no chance of you reaching it. It is easy to blame social media for everything and while part of me acknowledges the way we all interact is pretty broken, I accept I’m just as much part of the problem. Whether I’m advocating for a mass switch-off or simply yearning for the nostalgia of the early 2000s, I’m not sure. It’s unrealistic to want things to go backwards and unlikely that they ever will, however, I know I’m not alone in thinking that this constant connection (or maybe interconnectedness) seems to be leaving us all devoid of anything real, instead, we’re left to exist as digitised, dramatised versions of ourselves for eternity.
This was perfectly encapsulated by a recent experience I had. On a sleepy Sunday, walking to the bus stop, I saw someone who can only be described as a niche internet celebrity, someone who occupies a fair amount of my brain space for no other reason than she has cool shoes and posts funny memes. Obviously, she has no idea I exist and yet I’m so aware of her presence, in a way that she’d be completely unaware of. As these things often do, this set me on a spiral of thinking, how many of these quasi-celebrity relationships are we surrounded by? Do we all know a little bit too much about a lot of people? Followings are getting larger and the world is getting smaller, meaning we’re all one-degree separation away and the internet web is closing in. The creeping claustrophobia is sucking the spontaneity out of life in a way that makes everything feel attainable but uninspiring. We weren’t meant to exist simply as avatars of our predominant personality traits but by giving internet airtime to our whirring thoughts we’re stepping further out of our bodies and deeper into the metaverse, every day becoming an increasingly digitised version of ourselves. Through social media, It feels like we’re all so intrinsically linked in a way that means no one is out of reach and therefore nothing is surprising.
I’m aware of the irony in me saying this. I regularly post my every waking thought on Instagram and treat that little app as a never-ending account of my stream of consciousness in a way that probably wouldn’t be healthy for anyone. However, I’m also aware that with this chronically online condition comes a sense of smallness and closeness that feels suffocating. We weren’t meant to know so much all the time and it’s making the world a less exciting place. With everything automatically being perceived through an iPhone camera or facetune-face filter, there’s no room to act impulsively or without accountability and we’re all too up in each other’s business. Equally, we’ve all had a foot in creating this culture and are reluctant to be the first to jump out – I know I am.
Through all my protests of my “I just want to meet people organically”, nothing is stopping me from switching off my phone and striking up a conversation at the bus stop, apart from my own neurosis and a lifetime of hiding behind screens. It’s easy to curate yourself online and build parasocial relations but in doing so, real-life connections seem to be losing value and social currency, falling short to insta friends and DM slides. When everyone is approachable, everyone is disposable. Nobody seems to owe each other anything anymore and while you’re connected to a thousand people in your pocket, it feels insignificant to cancel plans or scout around for social options. While choice can be a good thing, the abundance of it seems to lead to a lack of interest and a lack of caring, when there’s so much of everything, it’s easy to feel like it all feels a little flat.