On Digital Confirmation: How Staying Connected Causes Paranoia
If one were to stop and look around today, one could be forgiven for thinking we were slaves. To our own anxiety, and to modern ideas invented by powerful institutions or powerful individuals with an institutions worth of people behind them. It seems obvious, and yet, most of us choose to not be witness; to not to see that which governs our everyday existence. In our ignorance of it though, we only grow paranoid. I know this because I’ve been one of these people for a long while now – aware but silent.
When was the last time, like me, you expressed the desire for product? A new pair of jeans, or a new jacket, or perhaps an upgrade of phone? This want for product is of course not exclusive to the digital age, it birthed long before the time of digital communication, but one could most certainly argue it was exaggerated with the boom of digital technology. The very makeup of our communication system now demands we own product. And the makeup of this product demands we’re always connected – always concerned.
When we think about mobile communication, we think of instantaneous connectivity. Talking to friends whilst riding the train, emailing sat in traffic, updating Facebook in the pressing moments before a loved ones funeral. We tap meaningfully into backlit screens, our eyes fixated, our minds jumbled with information we so desperately try to arrange digitally – in a way which see’s us both aesthetically and ideologically pleasing to the masses. As a society and as individuals we feel inclined to remain connected at all times. But why?
Do you remember how it felt the last time you got a notification? You probably didn’t think too much into it, but you got that light tingle. Somewhere inside your brain started making connections; the pleasure you once associated with accomplishing a task like finishing a run, or achieving something like a good test score, or even receiving a pat on the back – it was that same pleasure you felt as you opened up that notification. Someone liked one of your Facebook photos. And it made you feel great. This is what we call digital confirmation, and whilst it feels good, what we as consumers don’t understand is just how addictive it becomes.
We’re now primarily creatures destined to hunt this type of confirmation; seeking approval for the at times meaningless. The new clothing we just purchased, the new poem we wrote, the lack of romance in our lives. A Facebook like or a Twitter heart, these are all digital currencies we allow govern our next steps and our new paths. If we broadcast our darkest moments, well at least we’ll get a few likes and shares out of it right?
You see, seeking this level of confirmation without either the anonymity or level of disconnect the internet provides proves quite the challenge to the digital native. How often have you enjoyed the cloak of a digital identity? Perhaps you’ve left a comment on a news article disagreeing with it’s author, but under the shade of a ‘guest user’ account. It’s a relatively handsome prospect, is it not? Speaking freely without the ties of your real life identity conflicting your argument.
But for those raised receiving the validity of their peers online, the concept of real life discussion, of face to face approval or disproval, it seems emotionally exhausting. How does one bare it without the ability to hide behind a screen, or a digital persona? Whilst still impacting its receiver negatively, disapproval is somewhat dimmed online. Blunted in a way which could only be the product of a personal disconnect with the online identity he or she has built for themselves. A face to face meeting with that same level of disapproval however welcomes an anxiety too troublesome to ignore – what should one do with their body language? How does one hide the pain caused by such disapproval if one is not able to hide behind a screen or username? We have insistently removed ourselves from real life because of this.
We no longer enjoy taking phone calls for fear of a detectable pain in the tone of our voices. We no longer put ourselves at risk of facing judgement outside of the digital realm, be that on the playground, in the classroom or by our parents. We hide behind our digital blanket of safety. And who can blame us? With that option now available, why then should we indulge in this aspect of human existence? Why then should we allow ourselves to feel pain?
Though to grow one must feel this real life pain. One must remain open to the notion and the reality of being judged face to face. It aids us in career path, in life skills and most certainly in spiritual growth. Our paranoia is born through our constant connectivity, because to stay connected is to shy away from these realities. Regardless of whether you’re a digital native or digital adapting adult, our fear of being judged is what keeps us refreshing our feeds, chasing online conversation, distancing ourselves from what the real world promises. A digital silence means facing our real lives, and that, whilst not sounding too menacing on the page, is in actuality one of our biggest challenges in the 21st century.
It’s in the avoidance we breed a fear so strong that the eventual and inevitable meeting with a face to face scenario becomes unbearable. Text feeds between ourselves and friends are rarely conclusive because of this; often meandering from subject to subject, our iMessage becomes a never ending source of sporadic thought. Though it’s rare we ever quench this insatiable thirst for constant communication in the digital age without feeling its repercussions. The almost certainty of anxiety is found in digital silence. And so I challenge you, as I shall challenge myself, to destroy your paranoia today through putting down your phones. Reach out to the human next to you. Tell a story, share a joke. Forget the digital you and love the real you. You’re not as bad as you think.