The ushering in of the modern communication age around the turn of the century began the process of completely transforming the paradigm of human friendships and relationships in general. Communication between friends underwent a massive change with the advent of the internet. To add fuel to fire, the internet became an even more powerful mode of communication after the entire world went into lockdown for almost two years.
In the past two years, the majority of our conversations have gone under optical fibres or electromagnetic waves in free space. The lockdown saw people connecting and making virtual plans of celebrating friends’ birthdays or drinking coffee, watching a movie, or listening to music together, on lit-up screens. Funerals and weddings too were held on platforms like Zoom.
We were bearing testimony to the changes taking place among ourselves and the world being broadcasted live on Instagram. People tweeted life updates from their rooms. This shift has continued even as we have begun to somewhat move past the pandemic.
In the middle of the digital network revolution, the world of social media is populated by people sharing glimpses from their lives to their friends, as well as a horde of strangers. There are ‘photo dumps’, stories about what you’re doing at the moment, and constant tweets about what’s going on in your mind, all shared, in most cases, not just with friends and family but a lot of other people you don’t even know.
This implies that now we all have very engaged public personas to maintain for an audience that’s watching us through a rectangle comprising a bunch of pixels. Ironically, it is much easier to lose friendships these days, in spite of all this continuous connection with people.
Since everything is already up in the public domain of social media applications, ‘catching up’ with your friends seems to have lost its essence. The book they recently started reading, the music they’ve been listening to, the gossip at work or with family, the movies/TV shows they’ve been watching, the new plant or pet or cushion cover they got, the new haircut- the little details that make up a person- have already been talked over on Instagram stories, Twitter and Snapchat.
When you do catch up in person, there doesn’t seem to be anything left to talk about. This can create a sense of loneliness. Oversharing only seems to increase the divide between people. Somehow, we know so much about what’s going on in each other’s lives, yet we continue to lose friendships.
There’s also a sense of social fatigue most of us face. Why go out of the way to ask your friend about the new place they moved to when you can just double-tap the pictures of the new apartment and its view while scrolling past countless other people’s pictures of their cat? It’s too much effort. Besides, the ‘like’ feature has lately come to symbolise being ‘there’ while also not being ‘present’.
To keep relationships afloat in this internet-dominated world of 2022, we have to do a lot more to maintain our friendships than just double tap. Text that friend to let them know you liked their sweater, share a picture of the sky, tell them about the weird lady at the supermarket; go out of your way and drop a set of mugs for their new place. Be present.
We need to stop treating our lives like a performance meant for everyone. We need to create a distinction between friends and followers. Pick up your phone and call your friends every once in a while. It’s so easy to lose people. You have to hold them tight and keep trying with them. You can’t afford to be afraid to show that you care. People are all that we have and we need to go ‘out of our way’, many, many times to actually stay connected.