The Internet Connection: How our devices have become like extended members of our families due to the pandemic…
The theme of my work as a contemporary artist is social media and the ways we create connections both virtually and in real life. Our devices have the power to connect us to friends and family across the globe, as well as the ability to distract us from the realities of everyday life. The abundance of apps at the touch of a button is fascinating to me. My Degree show piece for my Master’s at Edinburgh College of Art this year, entitled “Dream Spaces”, explored how image and social media connect and transport us to places we would rather be, or where we wish we were during times where we can’t travel as freely as we once could due to the pandemic.
We are more connected digitally than ever before, yet at the same time loneliness and isolation is more prevalent in the twenty-first century. In the article ‘Always Connected, Yet Feeling Lonely’ by Carlos Hidalgo, he writes “…those who engage in what is deemed as social have elevated levels of feeling lonely. The reality is, social media cannot replace true, meaningful, human-to-human interaction, yet many are replacing that with their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and SnapChat feeds.”
In 2020, we as a society have relied more upon technology to keep us connected to people we can’t interact with in real life due to social distancing restrictions and lockdowns. I am aware having access to technology is a privilege, which suggests it is important that we use it wisely to keep us connected to those we care about. Our world has changed since Covid-19 emerged at the beginning of the year: many ways we communicate in the real world have been adapted to work online, which means a lot of us are now looking at screens more than we are used to. I know that I have been looking at screens more than I did last year, because a lot of my research is on social media, as well as connecting to creatives who I can potentially network with.
Morgan McTiernan, my creative partner and a good friend of mine, has recently moved to Australia. In talking about how her devices have connected her to friends and family across the world, she says “Living away from family and friends has been very difficult in 2020, but made easier through one thing. That thing, either love or hate it is my phone. Constantly connected and constantly on. It allows me to feel a part of and involved with my family and friends – even though we are separated by 10,000 miles, we are still together but apart. Without this connection I know I’d be lost and would have given up my dream of living abroad. My phone is always within arm’s reach, but that means so are my family and friends. Without feeling connected I’d feel lonely, but the ironic thing is being constantly connected does make you feel lonely. I find myself browsing through feeds of noise and frustrated that I’d waste time thumb scrolling. The problem isn’t the phone, the problem is the mindset and how you use the phone.”
As we approach the winter months of the year, the time to be amongst those we care about is more crucial than ever for our wellbeing. My perspective on my own items of technology like my laptop and my phone has changed because of how much value I now place on them to keep me close to friends and family. In a way, those who are further from me geographically feel closer because I am seeing people in the same city as me also on a screen, so the distance feels irrelevant.
Technology has become like members of our family. The phone waiting to ring so we can hear the voices of our loved ones on the other end, and the computers that perfectly frame the faces of those we cherish on Zoom or Skype like a moving painting of pixels. Technology has become the digitalised middle man, the virtual segue to those we wish to see more often. ‘Touchscreen’ sounds almost ironic or contradictory when who we really wish to reach out to are further away. Without the access provided by digital tools, we would be more distant from each other and ultimately less connected. In an age where technology is more advanced than ever, I value that I’m able to still enjoy the company of my friends and family through the help of a screen for now, as it has kept contacts alive. I look forward to when we use technology as a way to document real life again, instead of being the substitute for it. When hugs don’t need second guessing, and the flow of real contact becomes natural again.