Thursday, 12 November 2015

Built to roam

There was a birthday party at a beach with me not very keen on being there, me very keen on just saying a quick hello and then cycling home to a night spent in front of the TV. But somehow intentions changed and four of us ended up going out and dancing until the sun came up again. Hungover and tired I saw your FB message, and from there on for nearly half a year I was in the throes of a different kind of catfishing.

Catfishing normally implies meeting someone online and then forming an intense, co-dependent relationship with them. When the one then tries to see or speak to the other IRL, their illusion starts showing its first cracks as the other will always find some excuse for not being available. The body and its speaker don't manage to be in the same place at the same time, thus making it hard for the catfishee to continue the relationship. In most cases, the catfishee then finds out that the catfish is not who they said they were, and that they faked their profile for some reason, but that in essence it is the same person, just not. Then the catfishee is very disappointed and the relationship does not continue.

In an article for the New Yorker, Amanda Ann Klein considers the catfish by looking at how ambient intimacy fools someone into believing that this online-thing is a real thing. That words on screens are just conversations done differently, that someday a meeting will occur, something will develop beyond its digital origins into reality, and somehow the fairy tale will be complete.

But just as I naively clung to the idea of this real-not-real person, everywhere around me there were people doing the same thing. A friend was involved with someone with whom it was a constant back-and-forth of currents of communication being interrupted by long stretches of absence. Another uses one of the apps to entertain herself, admitting that none of the people she chats to are serious interests and yet becoming annoyed when no messages light up her inbox. We are all idiots not for love but for attention, lulling ourselves with pointless questions about the other's life into a belief that this matters.

Klein's article is more optimistic than my thoughts, stating that in the age of social media we have become used to a different kind of intimacy where we do not see distance as an obstacle, but instead accept "an ever-growing modern form of intimacy: the bodiless, online romance". The world has evolved so much to no longer question a mind-body-screen split, instead accepting the internet as merely another extension of our reality. It is an unusual thing, wanting to trust that what is presented to you on your smartphone is a flesh-and-blood person with valid experiences that you want to hear about. The most resonant part of the article is its last phrase: this shift to finding someone online is simply the continuance of what humans have always looked for - "the attempt and the failure to truly know another person".

Whereas catfishing still implies a relationship of some longevity, Nancy Jo Sales looks at the influence of dating apps and the possible "dating apocalypse" in an article for Vanity Fair , as most millennials use a combination of apps to chat with lists of people where the ultimate aim is to get someone in bed and not to actually get to know them. The apps all run similar algorithms where people can match up with one another by approvingly swiping right, with most men apparently using a combination of apps to find as many women to sleep with as possible. The article argues that the applications creating the illusion of there being an abundance of possible partners available, resulting in users thinking that someone better might always be just a swipe away. Basically people swipe right, meet up, hook up and then forget they ever exchanged bodily fluids.

One man in the article is quoted as considering whether his insatiable habit of sleeping with an ever increasing amount of women is misogynistic, whilst a group of sorority girls discusses how the sex they are having is mostly short, unpleasant and at times even painful. My question then is: if you're not enjoying the experience, why continue? Just as I wouldn't continue to buy chocolate with orange peel in it as I don't like the taste I won't go continuously having bad sex with men who won't remember my name because neither situations would make me feel particularly good. And with there being so many situations beyond my control that could already make a day seem quite shitty, I think being able to control who you sleep with and why should not be something you simply do because everyone is doing it.

Now, more than a year after being reverse-catfished, I found myself again in a digital weird-ship. An interest in the life of an other with an interest in mine, or so I thought. But after a while mysteries that reveal no new ways of solving them become tedious; you realise that despite a child-like trust there is no way of trusting a screen; ultimately, none of this matters because the thing about digital friends is that you can be rid of them simply by turning off your phone.

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