‘Imagine you lived in a ‘pleasure machine’, a simulated reality where you could have all the happy experiences you could possibly desire’
This is a famous thought experiment put forward by philosopher Robert Nozick. Would you choose to live in a ‘pleasure machine’ over everyday reality?
In a way, we are already living there. In the twenty-first century, we are able to have anything we want at the click of a button. Instant Facebook friendships, a mind perpetually stimulated by tweets from celebrities and thinkers, Instagram’sconstant haze of breathtaking landscapes and beautiful people. Technology also makes us feel invincible. By creating a social-networking profile, we can omit all the negative things about ourselves and express only the things we like, formulating a new ‘self’. Yet, like anyone who has considered Nozick’s hypothesis, we feel like there’s something missing.
Welcome To The Real World
The mere presence of a smartphone on the table will make your conversation a flop.
There are, of course, a lot of reasons to fear face-to-face social interaction. Shyness, insecurity, apprehension: hiding behind the mask of a screen resolves all of these problems. Why choose reality, if only for an abstract feeling of ‘something missing’?
However, the more people prepared to make this compromise, the less connected we all become. New ‘priming’ theories prove that the mere presence of a smartphone will make people feel less positive about each other when they are engaged in conversation. It’s the constant feeling of something else, a close competitor with each other’s attentions. Of course, there’s always the chance that the smartphone user is just waiting for a call. But there is most often no reason other than a desire to keep up with Facebook likes, orinstant messages.
Whilst we think that a well-maintained cyber presence is crucial to our status and likeability, it is only effective in the sense that it encourages people to perceive you how to want to be seen. Now this is crucial for professional networking, when you want people to perceive your ‘work’ persona over the person who drinks too much at the weekend. By all means, a spotless online profile is a piece of self-publicity that’s crucial to competitive business scenarios. But it hinders personal relationships, where someone’s acceptance of your flaws and quirks is just as important as their admiration of you. It’s essentially the difference between a friend and a fan. So, whilst real-life conversation will put you on the spot and open you up to scrutiny, using social-networking to try and form a personal relationship will merely slow down the process.
There’s No Easy Way Out
Tinder users make a contract to engage in sex that may not be desirable for either party.
Ultimately, social-networking isn’t the ‘shortcut’ it seems, nor is the end-result of using these sites a satisfying one. In a study by Dr. Kross and Dr. Verduyn which monitored 82 Facebook users, the evidence was simple. The more they experienced direct face-to-face social contact, the happier they felt, whilst volunteers using Facebook frequently found it had a negative correlation with their everyday happiness. By avoiding adverse situations in real-life, people are missing out on genuine social satisfaction.
It is the same story with Tinder, the up and coming app which facilitates ‘casual’ sexual encounters between users. It works like this: the app uses your phone’s GPS to track fellow Tinder users in your area. Then, based on their profile, you decide whether you would be open to a hook up. Provided that it’s lust at first sight, you enter an online forum with them where you can decide when and where this will take place. There’s a glitch here. However open you might be to a casual fling, there is little guarantee that you will feel the mutual sexual chemistry you would if you hooked up with someone at a bar. As proved by Claus Wedekind’s ‘Sweaty T-Shirt Study’, our pheromones play a much bigger part in attraction than we could ever be aware of; this is particularly important for someone you prefer to have in your bed, as opposed to on your arm. You have essentially made a contract to engage in sex that may not be desirable for either party. Once again, you are given all the guarantees of satisfaction without anything to substantiate it.
The cyber-universe might make us feel a sense of togetherness, but we are actually becoming more estranged. The truth is, although social-networking sites are useful in a lot of ways, they can never replace face-to-face human interaction. It is only when we learn to confront real-life situations that we will create the meaningful relationships that we really crave.