Double Take

'When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you – George Harrison


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Talking About Dating Apps, Catfish and more, by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley (Image: Trying to Connect by Rowena J Ronson)

Talking About Dating Apps, Catfish and more, by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

RJR: I wonder what impact dating apps, such as Tinder and Happn, are having on the human psyche and the way we are now ‘connecting’ with each other. What are people really looking for when they enlist their most appealing selfie (or someone else’s) as their ambassador in this new overriding virtual reality that has swiftly become our modern-day concept of existence?

NS: With everyone on their smartphone or tablet almost all of their waking day, perhaps the concept of intimacy is now inextricably linked to technology, rather than the unpredictable but sometimes rather interesting twists and turns of real reality. Do we prefer to wear masks, rather than reveal ourselves?

RJR: Imagine the scenario…. you are in a bar in London…. a great opportunity to chat and connect with people. Instead you stare at the top of everyone’s heads as they look down and talk to each other through technology…. if indeed they actually like each other’s freeze frame at the time! It is a really great way to hide and avoid intimacy, but allows us to be fed just enough to have our egos boosted for a few minutes, if we are lucky….

NS: However and wherever we meet people, there is this whole problem of the image that we present of ourselves and the image that we create about others. It seems that the virtual world encourages us to make and perceive yet another layer of images, and in the midst of all these images, what chance is there of a real relationship between two actual people?

RJR: I totally agree with you. And your question brought up for me one of the reasons I wanted to talk about this. I am not sure people are really looking for real relationships right now. I think many are fed enough by the attention they can glean through dating apps and other ways of superficially connecting through social media. Why have a real relationship with someone, and have to be a real person ourselves, when we can live in a dream reality of ourselves and others?

NS: Isn’t a dream or fantasy relationship one-sided? That makes it safe, I suppose. But it can’t be a relationship unless it’s two-sided, can it? Maybe the fantasy is easier but is it ultimately satisfying? I think it’s the case that many people are disillusioned with relationships and may not want to ‘go there’ anymore. And maybe the fact that you can have a virtual life rather than a real one strengthens this aversion to real relationships – and thus real life. Because life without relationships, however appealing that may be sometimes, is not a complete life, is it?

RJR: I have been researching the modern day phenomena of Catfish through watching the reality-based documentary television series of the same name, and this has been a huge eye-opener for me. People connect with each other on the internet and then develop what feels like deep relationships through texting, and sometimes the person they think they are communicating with is someone completely different. There is so much to think about and say with regards to this, but the first issue that springs to mind, as I said earlier, is how we are fed, so to speak. For some, texting is enough.

NS: Wasn’t there a craze for virtual girlfriends (in Japan, I think) a while ago? I’m not sure how that panned out. But we seem to be getting to a place now where people may be very happy with what is, in effect, a one-sided relationship. Is that safe? Or is it dangerous?

RJR: I don’t know about that craze. Can you tell me more? What do you mean by a one-sided relationship? Then I might be able to answer your question….

NS: It started about three years ago. See this link Meet the Japanese Men in Love With Virtual Girlfriends. The Japanese men in question were having relationships with girlfriends who they knew didn’t exist. But they seemed to find this ok. That is what I mean by one-sided. It’s like having a relationship with your teddy bear – or an imaginary friend. And maybe something like that is happening online?

RJR: Sounds great to me! I was actually quite taken by the film Her (2013), and the idea of forming a relationship with an operating system, which develops into a unique loving entity as a result of its interactions with its user. Maybe that will be the way forward?

NS: Maybe it will. But that’s definitely one-human-sided. Or a relationship with yourself? And what happens to the stimulus of unpredictability? Or are we better off without it? And what about sex? That surely is more interesting with two humans rather than one, isn’t it?

RJR: I think that would be the only one-sided relationship I would want. And I don’t think it would lack stimulation or unpredictability – according to the film – a must watch. We are born with a social brain, which is programmed to develop through our interaction with others. It is a human need to be in relationship with others.

NS: I think that last point must be right. But technology does seem to have made the ‘one-sided’ relationship much more possible – and maybe even very appealing to some people. And if people give up on trying to form loving relationships with real people, where does that leave us heading?

RJR: I think we are not just heading somewhere, but we are actually already there. We are in relationship with technology, whether we like it or not. For some, reaching out through Facebook live chats is a very nourishing way to check in with themselves, as well as connect with others. Perhaps we need to turn our own thoughts and feelings around on this one, and see the positive side?

NS: I agree that we are there already. But I don’t agree that Facebook is a satisfactory source of nourishment. It’s another example of a kind of one-sided relationship: people primarily talking about themselves and wanting someone to ‘like’ them or what they are doing or agree with what they are saying. I have actually tried to live without it and have found myself going back. It’s addictive and in some ways useful… but does it really offer anything that creates or sustains satisfying relationships?

RJR: I was not encouraging an addiction to Facebook. But recently, in my time off from relationships, I have been watching a philosophical thinker, Jason Silva. He is the creator of Shots of Awe, which are really worth checking out, and what he says has really inspired me. When he is on Facebook live, often more than a thousand people interact with him. And I know it brings him, and those responding to him, joy. Perhaps it is the shared wavelength and the feeling of being met, or perhaps the fact that we are all connected anyway. In recent weeks since I have discovered him, I have been in much better relationship with myself, and there is a lot to be said for that.

NS: Maybe lonely hearts aren’t so lonely when they all link up, or feel that they are linking up, via technology. Even though we are ‘there’, I still think we’re heading somewhere too. And I fear that that somewhere will be life as, in effect, a computer simulation. A simulacrum of life… rather than real human life. And perhaps we should remember that all of this technology, and many who exploit it, do so to make money… not to unite humanity. I still think nothing can substitute for a loving relationship that has no connection with technology.

RJR: Nothing beats a cuddle 🙂 What do our readers think?


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Talking About Communication: A dialogue between Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

Express Yourself.jpgTalking About Communication:

NS: We are all of us told that we are living through a communications revolution. Thanks to satellites and television and computers and the internet, just about everyone is connected to just about everyone else. But is being connected and being able to tell everyone everything and anything really communication? If we have not already lost it, are we not in danger of losing the ability actually to communicate one with another using only our purely human abilities?

RJR: I feel we now live in an era of superficial communication where the real intimacy of conversation and connection has been replaced with intrusion and projection. It really does feel like a revolution, a time of immense change and potential, but the negative effects of the speed and greed of these times is having an impact in all areas and on all things.

NS: Yes, the intrusion and projection are more gossip, speculation and sensationalising. And the ‘communication’ of the internet often seems more like an emptying out of the garbage inside us. Not only has the Warholian prediction that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes more or less come true, but it seems that events and issues and conversations now last for even less. There is no time for evaluation or analysis or reflection. Has technology become the enemy of communication?

RJR: And I am not sure we are encouraged to evaluate and reflect. In the speed of the now and in our culture when more is never enough, there is no space for these ‘self indulgent pursuits’, in fact they can be seen as dwelling rather taking stock, brooding rather than being self aware. But only when we are self aware and take responsibility for how we communicate with others can we truly achieve intimacy with others. We are now brainwashed to cut corners and think less, say less, be less but have more and more.

NS: Reflection – before and after communication – must also be part of that communication, or at least meaningful communication. By cutting every corner and by constantly receiving and responding instantly, we are, as you say, in danger of not really communicating at all. Is all of this – this high-speed news and high-speed social connection – actually bringing about the death of intimacy in our relationships with others?

RJR: I really think so. I am wondering what your opinion is of Mean Tweets? Jimmy Kimmel in the States asks celebrities to respond to the mean tweets posted to them on Twitter. Not a fan or tweeter myself, I was shocked to hear people saying the things they did to other human beings. I would be interested in your double take too….

NS: I more or less stopped using Twitter, more because of its frequent inanity than its offensiveness, but I think I know the sort of thing you’re talking about. Mean tweeting is in the same territory as that inhabited by the trolls, yes? I know from my own experience what it’s like to be on the end of these things. When a newspaper did a feature on the publication of my novel Like A Flower not that long ago, there was almost instant abuse (of me and the book) online – from someone who could not have read the book and who had no idea who I was. The fact that I had had a book published seemed really to offend them. I imagine that “celebrities” have to put up with this sort of thing much-magnified day after day. And my own bewilderment and hurt must have been quite minor compared with what they have to put up with. In answer to your question, yes it is shocking the stuff that people write about other people online – this bright new world of the most instant and advanced communication seems to be a vehicle for the darkest interior world of the angry, frustrated and hate-filled human being. Perhaps we have to see it as an education for us… that this primitive and aggressive nastiness is out there. But is it good that people have an outlet for these horrible feelings? Or should they be prevented from venting them in this way? Should there be censorship or not? And if not, is it better to ignore them rather than to respond?

RJR: I don’t think it is a good thing that people have an outlet for primitive and aggressive nastiness. It is not like by releasing they are coming to any great realisations about how they feel. The negativity only fuels others to do the same and encourages these kinds of destructive behaviours. I don’t think that they can be prevented now that the forums are out there. Do you? I don’t know how censorship would work, and now that the outlet is there, would there not be a revolt if that freedom of speech were taken away? I am not sure the answer is in ignoring them. Much like a child who is ignored, they don’t just give up, and if they do, does that not lead to more destruction? There must be another way?

NS: No, the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. And censorship, if it were possible, would only lead to a different kind of problem over what was allowed to be said and what wasn’t allowed, and who was going to decide. That seems to lead to ignoring them – or engaging with them in some way. Is there a positive way in which one can respond to or comment on people saying the most hurtful and aggressive things?

RJR: I think Mean Tweets have got it right actually. The actor reads out what was said to them and shows how hurtful and often ridiculous these comments are. I know we don’t have an equivalent but maybe the message will make a difference?

NS: Perhaps that is right. Rather than ignore the hurtful comments, process them and then be rid of them – and not allow them to cause any hurt. The pain or hurt may well reside much more with the person who wrote the hateful comments, and maybe we should just feel glad that we are not in their position – and guard against allowing ourselves to get into that position. In this way, there is a sort of communication and a lesson – and something positive.


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Reflections On Text Confrontations by Rowena J Ronson

Crossed Paths (RJR)Reflections On Text Confrontations

by Rowena J Ronson

Have you ever been involved in a text confrontation? It seems to me that more and more people use this way of communicating to express what they really feel to their friends and family, work colleagues and more, and this can often lead into a back and forth, ping pong argument. But unlike face-to-face communication, the compassion between two human beings disappears in the space in between, when we are simply only tapping letters on a screen. And as we know, our words are only a very small way of how we communicate to others. Our non-verbal communication and our tone are lost in translation.

So texts are open to interpretation. You can read a text a couple of times and see it differently depending on where our mood takes us. Show it to a friend, and they might see it in another way all together. That is because our words only convey a very small proportion of our actual message, perhaps 8%. And without the person we are writing to, physically standing in front of us, it seems all too easy to say what we wouldn’t do normally directly to their face. But all the while, our intentional meaning will become distorted by text, this overused and impersonal way of communicating.

How many relationships have ended at the drop of a text? How simple it is to bring to a painful stop, an unresolvable dynamic by just pressing ‘send’. And further still, an even more aggressive ‘block’, so no further messages can get through. But had we taken the time and communicated in person or at least on the phone, we would have be on the receiving end of the person and their feelings and maybe we would have found a way for the dynamic to resolve itself and the breakdown of communication not to occur.

Nigel and my next dialogue is a more in depth look at this subject and we welcome your experiences here. Join the discussion……