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The Loss of Authentic Community with Technology


A True Story

Sam was working one sunny afternoon at the city’s local Barnes and Noble. He was upstairs putting books on the shelves when he got a call from his manager downstairs.

“Sam, there is some guy here looking for you.”

“Weird, I'm not expecting anyone,” thought Sam

Sam descended the steps of that book store to find a Tall Burly Blond man at the cash register carefully observing every step Sam made.

“This just got weirder,” thought Sam.

As he got closer to this man he was a safe distance away to make an informal greeting.

“Can I help you?”

“Are you Sam?”  said the Blond Beefy Man. 

“Yeah?”

“Sam, it’s me - Ariel!”

The Man walked forward and put his hand on Sam’s shoulders as tears welled up in his eyes.

“I Freaking Love You and I don't know how to tell you.”

The manager who called Sam down “Gasp”

The young co-ed behind the cash register “Gasp”

The music seemed to have stopped in the store. A second turned into an eternity while Sam frantically searched for a rationale to this impossible scenario as it was playing out before him. Before Sam could say anything the man who called himself Ariel said, “Whoa, what was that all about? Can I take a selfie?”

Sam had never seen this stocky blond guy before. But he was involved with a woman named Ariel. They’d dated off and on for a year. And when he received this message, Ariel had just moved across the country – to Washington DC for work.

Ariel had gotten this stranger to deliver this message for her through an App called Somebody and the selfie proves the task was done. Somebody is a messaging app, but instead of receiving a message on your phone, you receive your message by a total stranger. You can also include stage directions like yell or cry when you give the message. 

The idea is to make technology more human. But it also makes it way more awkward, by introducing a complete stranger into an intimate interaction. And, as you can imagine, this particular interaction was very awkward; not just for the people involved, but for everyone in the bookstore.

Conclusion:

I think the reason this app resonated with so many people is that real relationships get messy and if we can outsource just the messy part we will.  We fear how someone might react or what they might think of us after they find out intimate details.  At some level, most of us are afraid of being totally transparentbut still desire the deep community that transparency provides.  The “Somebody” app is what happens when our need to be known overlaps with our fear of authenticity, everything gets short-circuited and you send someone else to do the relationship’s dirty work.  The app lets people stay a literal safe distance away from each other with a stranger between them communicating.  What’s crazy is that even without the app we tend to do the same thing in our relationships, except the stranger that stands between us and everyone else is the image of ourselves we want to portray.  That image keeps our authentic selves at a safe distance so we don’t get messy and therefore we’re never really known. We want community, we desire intimate friendships, but we are alone and lonely.

This is the world we live in. It is not surprising this app exists. It is surprising that we have, as a society, have gotten to a place where this is accepted. 

Community is important. Authenticity and honesty is vital for this community. We were not created to do life alone. If we are not careful, community can be replaced and OUTSOURCED with the technology we have come to accept as a way of life, not a tool that it was designed for.