Today’s digital world hinders meaningful romantic relationships

Texting, social media, and pornography disrupt how we view the world

Dante Caloia is concerned about how our screens shape our social lives.

You’ve been there before: it’s Friday night, and you’re swiping mindlessly through Tinder with hundreds of possible hookups at your fingertips. 

It might seem like any independent young adult’s dream, but it’s one of many reasons our generation is less intimate, less sexually active, and less happy.

I got my first phone in grade eight. With it came access to the digital world where we now form most of our relationships. When I transitioned from middle school to high school, the social interactions considered normal also changed. 

Instead of nervously walking up to your crush to ask them to the semi-formal dance, you could just send them a message. Instead of having to suffer through an awkward breakup conversation, you could simply block your soon-to-be ex and never see or hear from them again. 

It seems to be the same in university. There are so many more screen-to-screen conversations than those that are face-to-face. 

Part of this phenomenon is how sex and relationships are depicted online: one of the most significant factors impacting romance in the digital age. 

In particular, ease of access to pornographic images for young people widens the chasm between the sexes. Today, anyone with an electronic device can watch hours of porn, scroll through Instagram accounts dedicated to scantily-clad women, and participate in online forums that spread misogyny under the guise of providing relationship advice. 

Many young people don’t realize they’re absorbing a false conception of romance. When I was in high school, many of my male peers expected girls to have a perfect physique and act a certain way, both socially and sexually. 

Frighteningly, it seems that as each generation gets more access to this content, they’ll increasingly lose touch with the reality that not every woman is obsessed with sex, or looks like the ones on-screen. 

Some highly misogynistic and dangerous online spaces like the forums of men who call themselves “incels” are the result of large numbers of antisocial young men whose only real experiences with women consist of how they are depicted online.  

On the flipside, this mentality lowers the self-esteem of young women who are expected to live up to an impossible standard. The image that porn and social media culture creates is one that portrays women as submissive. It implies that sex is for men’s pleasure, and, in turn, so is a woman’s body. 

Another by-product of a digital generation is impatience. 

Communication between young people is marred by instant gratification. Before cellphones, people who were romantically involved sent letters and waited days (or weeks) for an answer. Even after landlines were invented, you could talk to the person you were courting from a distance, but you still had to hang up eventually.

Now, budding lovers can text, Snapchat, or Facetime for nearly 24 hours a day. They never have to lose touch. This minimalizes face-to-face social interaction. You can learn about someone’s life, preferences, and quirks, all without even knowing them. 

I have one friend who ‘dated’ a girl he’d never met. They’d only texted, which begs the question: why go on a potentially awkward date if you can flirt behind the safety of your phone? 

Dating apps are paired with this fear of forming meaningful relationships in person, which contributes to making us less emotionally intimate. It’s like ordering in dinner. With sites and apps like UberEats and SkipTheDishes, many people now choose the convenience of ordering food to their doors instead of going out. It’s easy, even if it means eating lower quality food that’s sat in the back of a car for 20 minutes. 

Romance today is similar. Before social media and dating apps, you had to leave your house to meet someone new, whether a bar, a club, or even a classroom. You had to build your relationship by going on dates and forming a real connection. This took more time than today’s instant validation, but it led to greater fulfillment. 

Now, intimate acts have become nothing but a pastime, devoid of emotion. 

As someone who’s experienced both casual encounters and serious dates, I can say dates force you out of your comfort zone into genuine interactions, which our generation is no longer comfortable with. We sit in groups on our phones, post every moment of our lives, and panic when we don’t have our devices with us. 

I think it’s time for us to go back to the times when we had to approach someone we liked to nervously ask for their number, and possibly even face rejection. It’s time for us to have to flirt in person.

As young people, we need to start following our hearts, not whichever way our finger swipes.

Dante Caloia is a first-year Arts student.

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