As Valentine’s Day rolls around, here’s how technology took centre-stage in our ‘self-love lives’ — for better or worse
At 10.30 pm on October 29, 1969, the first message on the Internet was sent by UCLA student Charley Kline in the form of two letters ‘lo’. Romantics, to this day, debate that it was obviously meant to be ‘love’, whereas irrefutable records show Charley meant to type ‘login’ and the system had crashed after the first two letters.
Fast forward 50 years to present-day and we can send all sorts of lovey-dovey messages in the form of quick texts, GIFs, SnapChats, videos, Instagram stories… the list is endless. Given there are countless expressions and forms of love in the digital space, thanks to technology mediating everything we do, this behemoth blanket of binaries became more than just an aid — it is now a crutch, a platform and our confidante.
We’ve seen love traverse from paper to screen to holograms to Artificial Intelligence — even to the point when, if we’re bored enough, we can ask Siri if they love us. It’s not just romantic love to which our technology panders; there is body positivity and self-love, so let’s take a look at these, and evaluate if the Internet is doing justice or doing harm.
Micro-blogging sites such as Instagram and Facebook have contributed big-time to both the depreciation and appreciation of self-love. We tend to judge our self-worth in terms of likes, responses, the number of private messages we get, and so on. Maybe, ease up on social media, whether it means taking a break for a few days or even going full-Monty and removing yourself entirely from the platform to become more purposeful in other ways.
That’s what psychologist Raisa Luther of Hope Trust recommends too. “Mental health is impacted by everything around us. As the saying goes for our body: you are what you eat, the same goes for our mind as well. What we feed our mind manifests in good or ill mental health.”
“Further, technology is a highly powerful tool in developing or destroying relationships. It reduces the importance and need for face-to-face interaction — this can result in changing the very face and nature of human relationships,” Raisa continues, “I fear that we are so influenced by technology and its various components that we may one day forget what it means to be human, or feel human. I have seen the same in my practice, where people get so influenced by technology that it affects their self-worth, self-esteem and even their identity. FOMO leads to a lot of my clients leading dual lives — and sometimes it is difficult to maintain boundaries between an online persona and the real, offline self.”
- Though the rise of the podcast was driven by true crime narratives, stories on the world of startups and more, Love and relationships have not been very far behind. The popular Modern Love podcast by The New York Times is one of the most popular podcasts in this genre. Bengaluru-based Paravathi Shiva, an IT specialist, says, “When I was growing up, dealing with college breakups and infatuations, you only had agony aunt columns or extremely weird late-night radio shows, where the host spoke in a high-pitched voice and dispensed repetitive advice. That has changed now. I am married now and listen to podcasts on relationships and more. Most of these podcasts are conversational and extremely relatable, making you feel like you are part of the conversation and not just a member of the audience. In the Modern Love podcast, I was very moved by the reading of You May Want to Marry my Husband, an essay written by writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal. It was beautifully-written, of course, but listening to it was even better.” Sales manager Shuvan C from Delhi agrees with this assessment. “I do not listen to many podcasts. However, I do like to listen in to the art of love podcast, where a dating expert offers an entertaining take on love and relationships. The best part about podcasts is that it is more informative and has lovely stories. I am single and feel that it makes me more confident to negotiate the complex web of relationships.”
- (As told to Nikhil Varma)
However, studies show the response is quite dependent on a person’s disposition; are they naturally vulnerable to social pressures imbibed by technology? “We found that having a sense of purpose allowed people to navigate virtual feedback with more rigidity and persistence. With a sense of purpose, they’re not so malleable to the number of likes they receive… Purposeful people noticed the positive feedback, but did not rely on it to feel good about themselves,” surmises Cornell University professor Anthony Burrow, co-author of study ‘‘Likes’ less likely to affect self-esteem of people with purpose’.
YouTube, despite its ongoing strife around policy and content creation, does have its happy corners, and with beauty vlogging an all-time rage, the subculture of body positivity channels has been crawling up the subscriber ladder, but not necessarily T-series-style. And no, we aren’t referring to over-hyped fitness gurus or flat-tummy-detox-tea sponsors who live for monetisation!
Pooja Kochar runs one of India’s growing channels, ‘30ish’, for body positivity chats. “30ish is trusting its internal GPS and turning towards YouTube. We are being mentored by #YouTubeSpaceMumbai to understand viewer preference for digital content,” she says on her site, “We conceptualise, create content and manage execution of social media campaigns which are completely customised. These campaigns are further supported through our blog, Twitter feed and Instagram page. We will live your brand, to give it the most authentic narrative.”
The cross-promotion of platforms for community-driven positivity is ideal in rebuilding the YouTube algorithms a lot of users have a problem with, especially with the site’s very flawed and clearly capitalistic ‘Trending’ section. With the Internet brimming with life-threatening challenge videos and dangerous pranks, it’ll be useful to employ to our advantage.
So this Valentine’s Day, when you see hearts and cheesy texts floating around, be sure to love yourself first and foremost.