Thursday, September 11, 2014

Catfish: A Window Into Society's Obsession with Social Networking

To say I am a pop culture enthusiast is to put it mildly.  And yet, I recognize that I am often happier spending an afternoon with a friend without my iPhone.  An attachment to technology and social networking has become a full-blown addiction for many of us, myself included.  Text and e-mail have replaced telephone calls and in-person meet-ups.  Chatting anonymously or with "friends" on the internet has taken the place of attending parties and other social events.

Why have these fundamental shifts occurred?

I watched Nev Schulman* speak with Larry King on the web series Larry King Now last night and much of their discussion dealt with how we communicate.  Schulman rose to fame with Catfish, a documentary capturing his experience falling in love inadvertently on the internet. When Nev finally meets his online girlfriend, he learns she was just a figment of a lonely married woman's imagination.  Nev has made a career out of lemons with Catfish: The TV Show; his film coined the term catfish, which is slang for somebody pretending to be someone they're not using social media, often to pursue a romantic relationship.  The show, now entering its fourth season, continues to confront a new catfish each episode and shows no signs of waning.

Schulman had a lot to say about how we connect to people today as opposed to twenty years ago.  The way most of us choose to communicate now requires less active engagement with other people and offers much less exposure to vulnerability. How much easier is it to break-up with a partner via text message rather than doing it in-person and having to deal with the emotional fallout?  Isn't it less humiliating to be rejected by a stranger on the internet instead of a fellow partygoer you have to look in the eyes?

Talk about being alone in a group.
Unfortunately, being "plugged-in" all of the time and avoiding face-to-face interactions seem to be contributing to today's less empathetic and more self-centered generation. On social media, one can create a place where he or she is the center of the world and lie freely about aspects of who they are and what their life is like if they choose to do so.  Are we all guilty of trying to put our best foot forward, whether that means making ourselves up for a date or a little self-aggrandizement?  Sure.  But it is much more difficult to lie to one person's face than to lie to multitudes when protected by the impersonality and anonymity of the internet.

Catfish: The TV Show gives us a glimpse into some of the dangers and drawbacks to becoming so involved with our online lives and relationships that we ignore our real ones.  Being present for all of life's moments is more important than documenting them for others to experience second-hand.  The people you know online but have never interacted with face-to-face are probably not the people who will be attending your wedding or showing-up at your loved one's funeral.

Schulman's number one recommendation for Millennials about the way they engage online? "You don't need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends you can be certain of."

Sound advice.

Watch the full discussion here:
Larry King Now

*I wrote this article before news of Schulman's 2006 arrest went viral.  Yet another example of how information is disseminated on the internet.  This controversy will have to be explored in another post.

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