Columnist: Magnified by Charis McGowan

It’s 2014! A new year, another reminder of how fast times are changing. I still feel like it’s the turn of the millennium and find it unbelievable that we are 14 years in already.

The predominating change of the 21st century – and what so far defines it – is technology. I mean, we still shop in the same old Tesco and suffer the same old common cold. But our relationship with technology has changed drastically – to the point where we actually have a relationship with our technology. We carry smartphones everywhere, checking them constantly. We are recognized by online identities on social network sites, meaning that barely known acquaintances can get to know you without even having to talk to you. Nowadays, your online persona can be better known than your ‘real’ self. In this world where we are all virtually connected, it seems like we are actually connecting less.

I have recently downloaded the incredibly shallow (but rather addictive) popular app Tinder (…for investigative journalism purposes, of course). I know some of you Strathy students have been using it as well – I’ve seen you on it. For those of you who don’t know what it is (or pretend you don’t)Tinder shows you pictures of people geographically nearbybased on your age and gender preferences. It uses information from Facebook, displaying selected photos, shared likes and mutual friends. It is data that can be read in roughly 5 seconds, allowing you to swipe left for NO and right for YES. It’s like being on Take Me Out without having to endure Paddy’s accent – all the fun available from the convenience of your smartphone.

If this isn’t a sign that romance is dead then I do not know what is. The whole thing has got me thinking about the issues between technology and convenience. Social relationships were long ago transformed by the likes of MSN messenger (or go way back, IQU), but while these mostly affected teen gamers and 14 year old girls, social media has now pervades every generation. It is entirely possible for a toddler or a pensioner to own an iPhone – nearly all our friends and family are online.

During my study year abroad, my close friends from home only communicated with me by ‘Liking’ some of my pictures – and I was guilty of doing the same thing in return. An odd comment, a few ‘Likes’ – it was still keeping in touch, keeping informed, but totally impersonal. I realized that despite knowing that my friends had gone out the past weekend, I didn’t actually know how my friends were.

Technology is not necessarily a bad thing, but our relationship with it is – or, more specifically, how it is affecting our relationships. Tinder is another development for us to stop communicating in real life. And it’s not just Tinder; it’s Snapchat, Instagram and most blatantly Facebook. Slowly, we are approaching the Wall-E dystopia scenario where the only human communication is achieved through screens – how disheartening is that?

According to the latest report from the Internet Advertising Bureau, Britons spend 43 hours a month online – that’s 1 in 12 waking minutes. It is highly likely that a large part of that time is not constructive and that we all waste time on the Internet. I wish Buzzfeed didn’t exist and sometimes I spend up to 20 minutes of valuable essay writing time googling Ryan Gosling on my phone. How do I find the time to waste online yet am too preoccupied to reach out to friends who have merely received a few ‘Likes’ or a 5 second ‘Snapchat’ in the past couple of months? It is counterproductive behavior that frustrates me and I keep submitting myself to idle brainless technological distraction. I want to start talking to people again.

So, in 2014, new phones, laptops and other must-have gadgetry will inevitably appear, leading to increasingly convenient ways for us not to communicate with each other in real life. But, personally, all this technology is just not the tinder for my fire (…)and my principal new year’s resolution will be to use less of the screen and to put more time back into reallife.}