Words by Anna Aguilar
Instant messaging has become the equivalent of passing a note to your crush in elementary school, confessing your love because you’re too shy or scared to say it out loud. But it’s not always so sweet. Confrontation isn’t easy, and if there’s something I’ve learned in England is people (unless rowdy and drunk) will probably avoid confronting you. As a result, most people go along their daily lives with repressed angers and anxieties towards the people around them. After a recent civil confrontation via Whatsapp with one of my peers, I realised she had blocked me off every form of social media. It reminded me of a Black Mirror episode in which people are able to physically block others in real life, making them unable to communicate with you or see you. Both the blocker and the blockee’s voices sound muffled to each other, whilst they appear as a blurred grey figure as shown in the picture above. Fortunately, we have not reached that level of technology yet and we continue to occasionally see each other in university, acting awkwardly civil. However, the ability to communicate in real life whilst remaining deleted in the virtual realm made me ask myself the following question; what is it about screens that make expressions of anger, the desire to completely erase someone in some form of electronic murder, so easy to do whilst ignoring somebody in the flesh remains unnatural?
As its name defines, instant messaging is instant. This means that wherever you are, if you have a sudden burst of courage to tell that person how you feel you can do it right then and there. There is no need to wait for the next time you see them, when you might have cooled down. Technology further provides a detached omniscience, diminishing the threat of someone’s intimidating physicality. The lack of inhibition works both ways, I have often left a social interaction and received a message from someone I had just been with telling me something positive they hadn’t managed to say in real life. It is almost etiquette to message someone telling them you’ve had a lovely evening with them, whereas it is not important that you say it before leaving.
You could argue words have less impact on WhatsApp than they would in person: saying I love you doesn’t have the same value, just like ignoring someone’s message isn’t the same as blanking someone face to face. Communication technology doesn’t only affect the way we interact socially, but also plays an increasingly key part in the development of our relationships. By facilitating the use of both violent language and admiration, conversations that possibly wouldn’t have occurred take place. On a larger scale, this lack of inhibition translates into large groups dedicated to discriminative violence. The ability to find people with similar opinions and join an aggressive collective is easy, although increasingly regulated. Although it is impossible to backtrack to a pre-instant messaging existence, we can still keep in mind how it influences our relationships. Prioritising physical interactions in an increasingly virtual world may be a key aspect in remaining sensitive and human towards the people around us.
Read more from Anna on her blog Underlying Violence in our Contemporary Society