In one of the great ironies of life, the advent of the Internet, with all its social connectivity and instant gratification, also brought with it an epidemic of loneliness. As a recent Atlantic article noted, this phenomenon, known as the Internet Paradox, has created an environment where communication is as easy as breathing, but meaningful interaction is a Sisyphean task. The more we strive for the psychological transference which satisfies us, the more desperate and shallow we feel. However, many companies are trying to change this personal distance, breaking down the barriers which stand between ourselves and others.
Adidas has an ambitious project underway right now called “There is a Wonderland, I’ll meet you there”, hosting a 14-day train journey through seven cities (from Barcelona to Tel-Aviv with a two-day breather in each locale) for seven artists. The campaign is meant to produce a multi-media art show detailing the artists’ journey. The art, created in the heat of the journey, will be themed around communication, and will focus on trying to navigate around isolating communication barriers. All works will be exhibited in an interactive show and storytelling performance in New York this Fall.
Nintendo’s 3DS, as well as numerous smart phone apps (Meet Gatsby, for example) have made serendipitous interaction more likely by creating a framework for local face-to-face interaction. This isn’t necessarily new territory—the much maligned chatroulette tried to get people face-to-face, but suffered not only from users’ lack of attention, but also a good deal of wardrobe malfunctions.
The real question is whether or not these tools will make a difference: often one or two meaningful social interactions can change our outlook on life. But these computer-aided random encounters may come as a flood, and have a tendency to remain shallow. Of course, meaningful social interaction need not be aided by large shoe companies and flashy young app developers. Small changes in otherwise solitary routines can make a difference. Stop texting, start calling, no matter the triviality. Don’t chat with the person sitting across from you through an instant messenger, that’s what evolution has given us vocal chords for. Slow down, watch birds, talk to people about it. Anything that destresses and resocializes your routine is a surefire way to feel more in-tune with your peers. Another option is to use social media, the apparent offender in all of this, as a means to cultivate social interaction. Facebook is great for organizing gatherings, not just looking at pictures of them. As long as we use social media as a tool to maximize facetime, we’ll be right back to social butterfly status.