|The future Keira Cameron on Continuum|
Barbara: The people behind the hot new TV show, Continuum, asked us to ponder friendship and trust, both present and future. On the surface, this show is a thriller about a police officer who, through a radical terrorist act in 2077, gets transported in time to 2012 and must save her own future. But deep down this is a compelling, believable exploration of how our beliefs, expectations and hopes are also coloured by our times (aka our experiences). They got us thinking: how has modern technology affected our friendships from the past into the present, and how will the dynamics continue to evolve into the future? What do we think the future holds for our closest relationships?
Deb: I had a BFF when I was a very little girl with whom I have remained close to this day. Of course in those days she was, simply, my best friend. We were inseparable. And inseparable in the 50’s and 60’s meant “inseparable”—face to face, voice to voice, heart to heart.
Technology such as it was then, brought people together. If we wanted to listen to music, we played records or the transistor radio and listened to it together. It was a shared thing. The phone was also a wonderful tool for connection with friends but, as was the era, my time was strictly limited by my well-intended parental units. The only other authority figure in my life at that time was the streetlights which would come on midstride, mid-game, stopping cold a good round of “What time is it, Mr. Wolf”? They were glorious, sweet times and I loved the connection of that period to each of the humans in my life.
I will never forget the day when my best friend and I skipped up the street, singing and holding hands, only to be stopped in our tracks: my house was brandishing a Sold sign on it. Yes, it had been for sale, but in kid world, that sale was never going to happen. It had been weeks, and no bites ... until bang. It is my first ever memory of weeping my guts dry. My best friend and I clung to each other in the hopes that when my parents saw how distraught we were they would rip the Sold sign up and use it for kindling. But as bad as they felt for us, as you can imagine, they were not swayed. It was my first glimpse into the world of adult decisions that were between the adults and not shared. This was not an era for “family sharing” dinners. They had made a grownup decision. Because they were grownups. We were ten.
My friend and I vowed to keep in touch and we did. Our parents did their best and drove us back and forth to each other’s homes. Sometimes, as we got older, we would take the bus. We were a good forty-five minutes from each other, which in those days was like traversing the Cabot Trail from one end to the other. We stayed in touch more or less right through high school, but the “less” started to overtake the “more” as we each forged new friendships and lives. After a while we lost contact altogether. Then in our thirties we ended up working together on a Movie-of-the-Week. The depth of how out of touch we were was illustrated by the fact that we were both shocked to see that the other one had gone into the acting field. We were happy to see each other but, for my part, there was awkwardness and guilt. I can’t speak for my friend but, as lovely as it was to see her, we just didn’t fall back into “it”. We met a few times and it was lovely, but we did not reconnect with those “best friends” of our youth.
Cut to: The internet with all its wily connecting ways! So, suddenly, there we were, my old best friend and I, skipping through cyber space holding hands. As we started to email and Facebook, we found that it brought us back to that comfortable place. Memories were brought forth, photos were shared, and bonds were reformed. The internet had replaced our end-of-the-day conversations with each other on our princess phones. This time we were free of the sound of, “Okay, Missy, off the phone!” And as it turns out, the internet was doing just what the phone had done. It was making us yearn for each other, for that face-to-face, voice-to-voice connection that we would have the next day. And so we started connecting in person and spending time alone, with our husbands and with our mutual friends.
My old best friend is just one example of the reconnections I have made that have delighted me and brought my past into my future in gentle way. The internet has brought me to a connected place. I know the prevailing thought is that the internet disconnects us, but for me it has been the opposite. It has freed up my time with its shorthand ways to do the things I want to do, and to be there for the people I care about. And if an email seems in any way a call for help, I just pick up the phone and really connect.
But I wonder, will it be that way for a generation of people who never had the intense face-to-face? Will they crave what they have never really known? I like to think they will. We are human after all, with the need for real human contact. Somehow, I think we will instinctively seek it out. We can’t help it.
Barbara: I’ve told you guys before how I struggled to establish true female friendships for a long time, committing instead to my relationship with Phil and being a mom, and not really understanding that platonic friendships took an equally committed approach—one with as concerted efforts in sharing (I was a terrible sharer) as there are in listening (I was a great listener).
Like Deb, I certainly have found that blogging and Facebook and email and everything technology-related has only helped me in my efforts to embrace—and trust—sharing. And it has felt very much like a wild and happy ride embracing this new tech-world. When I think of myself in my 30s and remember being a working mom and recall how I felt back then—utterly in love with my family, and certainly able to have a great time with friends, but somehow, intrinsically, lonely, I want to take my hat off to technology and really celebrate all that it has brought me in terms of connecting with people. Today, I feel more in touch, more “heard”, more a part of the greater fabric. Yet when I consider it, I can’t ignore all the cautionary warnings about what might become of us if we continue to immerse ourselves into this relatively new form of communication.
So, in the spirit of considering my life experiences and thinking forward, here’s a re-cap of what I believe to be the benefits of modern technology so far today: I get to hear from friends I would never otherwise keep up with; I get to meet new friends and like-minded (open-minded) souls from around the world—again, people I would never otherwise meet—I have a forum for my own voice, which is intrinsic to my well-being (call me egotistical, but I want to tell you stories and I want you to hear them, and I want to hear your stories and I want us to talk about them and what they mean to us); through the unflinching honesty of so many others online I have daily opportunities to have my world or personal vision skewed in new directions; I get to live vicariously through many more people; I get to “see the world” in more colours than ever before; the world feels smaller and therefore it feels more possible that we might take more responsibility for it in the future—we have the chance to care more, understand more, relate more, accept more, take less for granted, appreciate more.
But on the other hand, there are also many naysayers. Even optimists bring up legitimate concerns about the future of our relationships if we continue in this artificial world of technology: we might, in fact, care less, understand less, relate less, accept less, take more for granted. Just the other day I read this article lamenting the downfall of eye contact. Katrina Onstad—whose writing I love and respect—bemoaned how, because of our attachment to technology, we are seemingly losing our most vital connector: what and how we see. In fact, I remember being impressed many years ago when I read about a study that discovered that when we listen to others, we are wrong about their true meaning at least 70% of the time! We misinterpret significance, intent, and motivation more often than not. Of course, there’s that other study that tells us that we read people correctly 80% of the time when we subconsciously interpret their body language. So it’s kinda hard to dispute that we need to see each other in order to truly understand each other. Through only writing our reality and not engaging in reality, we have the option to offer only certain, idealized elements of ourselves, to (as Katrina O. says) “curate” our own lives. And also, sometimes we lie (even to ourselves)! I know I’ve been guilty of intellectualizing and then expressing some important aspect of myself only to either change my mind the next day or—more likely—have someone who knows me really well call me out on it and say, “Bullshit!”
So, with these basic parameters on the board (and please add your own here), where might we be in 65 years when it comes to how we communicate in our relationships?
Maybe we’ll be in touch with every single person on the planet. A kind of technological beehive where our community needs outweigh our individual needs, and food and healthcare and environmental safeguards will be distributed accordingly (I’m an optimist). Maybe there will be no borders. Why do we need them, what are we protecting if not our mutual survival? Maybe, in order to sustain our friendships, we will have gone so deeply into technology that we will no longer need the visual cues that were once so imperative to our survival on the savannahs. Maybe the “bullshit” meter will be an automatic part of our daily lives: a scanner in our computers (whatever those will look like then!) that can measure our heart rates and pupil dilations and tell us, “You are way off base with this assumption,” or “Bang on, sister!” We can laugh about it with each other in our virtual coffee klatches (hello, “The Old Middle Ages”). Or maybe we can turn that setting off so that we’re operating not on “absolute-truth-mode” but on “philosophy-aka-‘what-if’-mode”.
Deb: What if at some point in time we have the ability to read each other’s emotions? Not by a glance or a smile, but through the kind of technology that can enable us to detect a quickening pulse or a reddening face! It sure would save time on bad pickup lines. I also wonder about the possibility of body scanners that work as we enter a shoe store or clothing shop, reminding us of what we chose last time and what we might be interested in purchasing today. I remember seeing this in the movie Minority Report and thinking, “Yeah, hell yeah, I’ll take that!” As middle age has crept closer I have found myself fantasizing about what might be available to us in the future and, believe me, it has been a battle in my brain between privacy issues and convenience issues—as I get older, convenience is starting to pull ahead of the pack, I am ashamed to say.
Barbara: So what about trust? Would we trust more or less if we had access to everyone’s emotional state through scanners and readers? We can know someone we love is frustrated, scared, bored and still be shocked and heartbroken if, because of these things, they betray us. Having their emotional states tracked scientifically or communicating in other visual ways won’t preempt us from living with the burdens of loss and pain or with the highs of joy and accomplishment. Technology can’t prevent us from living in the moment, even if that moment looks utterly different 65 years from now than it does in this moment right now. We will still rejoice and trust and celebrate and love. That’s who we are. For feel better or worse.
So what do you see in our future ... of friendship or human relationships in general?