In 1943, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in The Little Prince that “The essential is invisible to the eye”. I doubt he knew the extent to which the precise opposite (or something like it; bear with me) should be true in 2013: that our eyes be invisible to the essential. The essential, in this case, being Facebook messages.
70 years after de Saint-Exupéry penned his nugget of genius, I melt away the afternoon in front of my Mac, refusing to open a Facebook group message thread that has been buzzing with notifications for the past 72 hours. Meanwhile, simultaneously, my Facebook inbox is littered with prematurely ceased conversation threads, evidence of flaky acquaintanceships, and an e-trail of people who I now know to avoid in public, lest the deafening levels of silence in our virtual friendship permeate the meatspace. Although it’s possible to mark a message as “unread”, this brings an extra level of neuroticism to our online interactions.
In a world of ‘read’ receipts and surprisingly nerve-wracking “Seen: 11:37” updates, there is little space to reply to messages in our own time. We are increasingly being expected, and inadvertently pressured, to be constantly on the ball with replies. This is likely the culprit for our ever-increasing obsession with being plugged in, contactable, and active on social media and email all day. Long gone are the low-pressure days of taking your sweet time to get back to people, and nonchalantly waiting for someone to reply to you. For they have now paved the way for anxiously awaiting replies once we know our sent messages have been read.
When it comes to obsessing over ‘seen’, even I am red-handed with guilt, as I’m sure many of us are. I often catch myself checking back to message threads, curious about whether or not my recipient has opened the last message I sent them. This year, particularly, when chasing stories for Honi and messaging people outside of my friendship circle, it’s become an unshakeable crutch that I use to gauge how to approach a story, whether or not Facebook is an appropriate method of contact, or even wondering what the fuck a person is doing awake at “[Seen:] 04:12”. I’ve become a monster.
This is yet another inevitable installment of technology’s increasingly overbearing tentacles that reach into the different facets of our lives and begin to replace limbs that we didn’t even know we needed. It’s only a matter of time before we forget what it was like before we knew exactly when people had seen our messages. Relying on the ‘seen’ feature – in Facebook, text messages, and even applications like Snapchat (‘opened’ vs. simply ‘delivered’) – will soon be as normalised as the act of sending messages itself when we consider the dynamics of e-communication. In fact, it’s only a matter of time before we’re all microchipped, uniformed, lobotomised shells walking in time to the monotonous beat of our Orwellian State’s omnipotent, controlling drum. We’ll forget what it was like before “Seen” – before social media and invasive technology controlled every facet of our existence. In the great words of Abe Simpson: “I used to be with it. Then they changed what it was, and now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me.
And it’s only a matter of time, non-Facebook users; Quoth Abe: “It’ll happen to you, too”.