Yi Essay 1

The Modern Relationship

According to Merriam-Webster.com, a “relationship” is defined as “a state of affairs existing between those having relations or dealings,” or “a romantic or passionate attachment.” That definition leaves a lot of wiggle room for people pursuing the warmth and comfort of a relationship. The question that arises today is whether or not certain relationships, through the means of modern technology, should be considered authentic by definition and tradition, or simply a pseudo form of what we once knew to be a relationship. We will juxtapose two main classes of relationships: the old and new; but we first must determine how and where to split recent history. For the purposes of this paper, let’s consider the start of the modern Internet Era as a cresting division between the old and new relationship.

While the dictionary gives us original meanings and contexts of certain words, rhetorical meaning changes reciprocally with shifts in culture and society. For example, the word “tight” literally indicates spatial restriction and confinement, but if used in certain modern contexts, “tight” can mean “cool” or “awesome.” Modern culture seems to have taken the word “relationship” and run with it. We’re here to explore and determine what relationships have evolved into based on tradition, and then draw conclusions of validity, if that is in any way possible. Of course people will consider their relationships “valid” or “authentic.” This paper will discuss the foundations of the traditional, personal relationship and apply these foundations to what we see today in modern culture.

Relationships Then

Let’s take it as far back as possible to the first known Homo sapiens. Human relations likely originated from family ties, naturally occurring out of survival and necessity. People were interdependent upon each other for food and other basic needs because each provided a different area of skill. As we fast forward through time, relationships stop being exclusively about surviving and procreation, and start becoming products of community and proximity. Somewhere along the line, as social infrastructures become established, humans decide that it’s nice to be friendly to one another, not to necessarily gain material goods, but to ascertain social networks.

We’ve had social networks since the beginning of human existence, but those networks may have been formed rather unceremoniously. A deliberate attempt to create and expand social networks was the next step in human relationships; finding commonalities amongst a community was eventually deemed valuable and rewarding. At some undetermined time in history, the relationship between a man and a woman stopped being just about making babies, and attraction started to be the motivational factor.
As we skip over thousands of years of wars, peace, famine, and fortune, we stop at the latter half of the 20th century in America, right before the introduction and wide spread use of the Internet. We’ve had a nice baby boom to jump start things, and we see boys and girls dating left and right. These dating relationships turn into courtships and sometimes marriage.

In the 1950’s and 60’s, men and women in a relationship would have probably talked on the phone and wrote letters, but I expect that most of their interactions occurred in person. We’ve all seen movies and TV shows where a boy and girl meet in an ice cream parlor to share a milkshake or an ice cream sundae, then take a leisurely walk in a grassy park where everyone is out walking their dogs and flying their kites. These things certainly happen today, but it seems as though these activities are saved for uniquely special occasions because so much interaction happens on a small scale via text message or instant messenger.
Face to face interactions weren’t exactly considered valuable, but just an expected part of life. Friendships and dating relationships thrived off of being in close physical proximity with someone for extended periods of time, whether it was playing catch with a buddy or riding bikes with a significant other.

Relationships Now

When the Internet first came out, it was crude and difficult to utilize. After a number of years, the Internet was redesigned for the everyday user and there was an eventual widespread use of Internet chat rooms and email. I remember seeing advertisements where you could email pictures with blazing 56K speeds to your grandma in Nebraska, and they would be enthralled by these new technological advancements. Instant messaging was just a super-fast version of email. With new technology came old precautions; parents told children to be careful “out there,” and cautioned them against talking to strangers. Don’t click on random links sent your way, just as you wouldn’t eat a stranger’s candy. Screen names were heavily encoded so nobody could possibly identify you.
When I was young, I met my neighborhood friends to ride bikes in the woods together, to catch salamanders and crawfish in the creek, and to swim at the pool. When we all started getting our new fangled AOL Instant Messenger screen names, playing catch and running around the park took a back seat. We played online games and explored the far reaches of the Internet. Kids we wouldn’t even talk to in person became our best buds online, but remained distant acquaintances in person. Through online anonymity, we could bash on teachers and talk about anything we wanted.

In eighth grade, I started liking this girl named Anna. She was one of the prettiest girls in our class and we were already friends, so we started chatting online. Eventually we started liking each other mutually, so I asked her out. We hung out everyday, talked all the time, and I was excited to see her. Sadly, all these things happened exclusively online. Our hang out times were spent by our respective computers, we talked through chatting, and I was excited to come home from school to see that she was already signed on waiting for us to talk. When I saw her in person, I was too shy to talk to her at length and we rarely went anywhere outside of school (it didn’t help that we couldn’t drive). Unfortunately, our relationship didn’t work out and I blame it on our dependence on the Internet. But, one thing I loved was the confidence the Internet provided. I could be bold and do things I wouldn’t have the courage to do in person.

As the Internet became more pervasive in modern culture, people were more connected than ever. I could send my cousins pictures and videos of what we did over here in Virginia and even chat with them everyday. That sort of constant connection caused our relationship to become lackluster and lose its specialness. They weren’t those distant cousins in California anymore; they were suddenly the most accessible people on the planet. On a positive note, when we actually saw each other in person, it was those sort of reunions where you finally can put a face to a name.
Girlfriends and boyfriends are with each other 24/7 because of text messaging. The geographical separation between significant others in a long distance relationship suddenly becomes much smaller and life is good. But, is meeting every evening to video chat or talk on the phone an equal trade off from going on a date together? Today, relationships seem to be held together by technology rather than a friendship bond. There are people on my Facebook friend list that I don’t ever talk to or would ever hang out with. Facebook is literally the only thing holding us together. The same goes with my “buddies” on AOL Instant Messenger. The only interaction I have with some of them is through reading their away messages.

Quantity Over Quality?

So we’ve gone through what relationships were then and what relationships are now. People then and now are still connecting at a personal level and they communicate with each other in some way or another, so does it really matter how they do things? Yes, many people argue that today’s relationships are watered down and nothing compared to what we used to have, but technology opens so many opportunities to stay in touch with an unprecedented amount of people.

To study a relationship’s validity, one must return to the point of having a relationship in the first place. Survival and necessity are easily ruled out; so what we’re left with is the pursuit of a relationship for the comfort and affection that it brings. If someone in the modern Internet Era finds comfort and a sense of belonging through their relationships that they so crave, then nothing can be said. Seeking relationships is essentially a selfish ambition, and if you are satisfied with whatever relationships you have, then congratulations for getting what you want.

This brings us to the Facebook friend count. Who says I can’t have a thousand friends? I wish I had more and more, but please remember that I have only so much love and affection to go around. Reducing a person’s capacity to care to a fractions and percentages may seem artificial and counterintuitive, but we unconsciously do it all the time. If I have three close friends over at my house, I can interact with each person 33.33% of the time. Now, let’s say I invite forty-seven others to come join the party. I must then attempt to maintain some sort of homogenous mixing and mingling so forty-seven partygoers don’t feel shafted. After all, I’m the one they all came for, right?

It seems that people are more willing to choose quantity over quality as social networks grow. But, with more friends comes more responsibility. Everyone must be invited to everything and memories must be made with as many people as possible. Do all fifty of the invited guests at your party really care about you? My guess is “no,” but they are there, creating their own opportunities to expand their social networking.

Tying It All Together

It’s unfair to say that vapid relationships were created by the Internet’s influence, but the Internet certainly serves as a massive catalyst. The Internet is never stagnant, but ever changes and constantly improves itself to serve the needs of the masses. This is why the Internet is such a great reflection of our current culture.

While social networking and finding as many friends as possible is great, there’s still something huge missing. It does seem selfish to purposely connect with the people just for social leverage and popularity. To care for everyone and to keep up with everyone’s life is an ever so tiring and endless feat, but it may just be worth it.

Taking everything discussed so far into consideration, there is nothing more influential to a relationship than person-to-person contact. Keeping relationships alive through the means of Facebook and online communication is great, but should only be used when necessary. The word “friend” has been cheapened by modern culture and even turned into a verb. To “friend” someone indicates willingness to open up lines of communication, rather than indicate a bond formed through care and love for another person. I can see both sides of the argument. 1) Relationships have been altered by culture, thus they reflect modern culture’s ideals and trends. Life is ever-changing and we should learn to adapt. 2) Relationships aren’t what they used to be. Nobody knows each other’s phone numbers or addresses. Some kids don’t even know how to drive to a friend’s house because their best friend, GPS, guides them through life.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong about either side, but when the integrity of the actual word, “relationship” becomes so affected by the changing environment and eventually starts to lose its potency, we have an issue. When people start reducing others to mere contacts, they might find themselves in a situation where a thousand people come to their weddings and only a handful show up to their funerals. As the saying goes, “caring is sharing,” and to have a true relationship, even in a time where technology is rapidly taking over, you have to make the effort to invest in someone’s life apart from texts and Facebook pokes.

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