Desperate to stay connected, but…
Facebook, smartphones fail to satisfy young generation’s crave for connections
By Kim Bo-eun, Jung Min-ho, Kim Jung-yoon and Bahk Eun-ji
Facebook, Twitter, Kakaotalk and other social networking services keep the young generation staying connected each other. Hooked up by Internet or smartphones, they spend an enormous amount of time interacting with their friends or followers online.
These young people, anxious about their future amid fiercer competition in their workplaces, crave to build these online connections. But does this interaction make them really connected?
Rather, many say they are far from satisfied with the connections which they say are “shallow” or “superficial” ― like the solitude in crowds. They say they sometimes feel more isolated than ever in this Internet era.
Four Korea Times intern-reporters in their 20s had a heart-to-heart talk on relationships, jobs, appearance and other issues. ― ED.
On social connections
Bahk Eun-ji (Bahk): I think thriving matchmaking businesses across the country reflect that young people, though furiously connected online, have fewer opportunities to interact with others offline.
Kim Jung-yoon (Yoon): I have hundreds of friends on Facebook and listed on my smart-phone. But when I actually want to talk to someone, or meet up with someone, I feel like there is no one I can make a call to.
Jung Min-ho (Jung): When I was in the U.S., I often saw people making jokes like “Is he/she your friend or Facebook friend? People obviously start realizing that Facebook friends might not be true friends. For example, I visited my Facebook Web page the other day on my birthday. Of course, more than a hundred of my friends left birthday wishes on my account. But only a handful of friends of mine threw me a small birthday party. Interestingly they are not my Facebook friends.
Kim Bo-eun (Kim): I think the reason people are so obsessed with the number of friends they have on Facebook lies in their dissatisfaction with the superficial relationships they have in real life. Maybe they want to make up for the shallow relationships by outnumbering others in terms of Facebook friends.
Jung: That’s right. I have about 500 friends on Facebook. The unsatisfied desire for a true connection makes me keep adding people to my friend list.
Yoon: I don’t think I have enough time to develop any relationships since I’m swamped with too much work that I have to deal with on a daily basis. I just cannot find the time to meet up with people.
Bahk: Since I spend the most of day in the office, I feel more connected with my co-workers.
Yoon: I can easily build connections with my co-workers since they are the ones who understand what I’m going through at the moment. But on the other hand, I cannot completely open up to them either, since they are also my competitors. I simply cannot trust anybody.
Bahk: Yeah, connections crumble when competition kicks in.
Yoon: Today, we need to make an extra effort to make ourselves stand out from the crowd.
Kim: It’s true that young people are caught up in excessive competition. Collegians and young people in their 20s feel nervous when they have nothing to do. They simply can’t stay doing nothing. They constantly search for and engage in activities that keep them occupied, whatever they may be. I think this happens because students are afraid they might fall behind compared to their peers.
Yoon: I sometimes intentionally disconnect myself from others by de-activating my Facebook account or turning off my cell phone, to feel less like I’m lagging behind. Looking at my friends who achieve so many things makes me feel insecure.
Kim: But that could in turn become a positive factor that motivates you to work harder. That’s what it was like when I was in college. Although I’m pretty much laid back, I think the competitive environment pushed me to work harder at the time.
Yoon: I also think fierce competition among people comes from the fear that you might end up being left alone disconnected.
Anxiety about future
Yoon: I feel insecure about my job and future all the time. The biggest insecurity comes from the immediate future that I am not sure of.
Jung: Anxiety and insecurity are natural emotions that we all have, which could be converted into productive energy. I think the way this generation responds to that emotion is different from the way the old generations did. The pervasive phenomenon where everyone is obsessed with building their credentials is just one of many examples. The old generations converted that insecurity into energy to build a strong economy.
Jung: I do not think the older generation were any less insecure, compared to this one. The economic situation was even worse, considering the fact that they had to be concerned about basic necessities such as food and shelter.
Bahk: If you look at countries like Sweden, they systematically protect those who make mistakes through a well-woven web of safety net programs in which they can get a second chance with aid from the government. On the other hand, a second chance is less likely here without a well-constructed welfare system.
Bahk: I had experienced that even a boyfriend did not satisfy my desire to connect. Sometimes, a boyfriend made me even lonelier.
Jung: What we are expecting from the romantic relationship is the intimate connection. Maybe we all have a different way to reach that. What I would like to bring up, however, is that this generation too much focuses on what they want instead of what they can give even in romantic relationships. As the relationship is mutual, you never get what you want unless you first give something the other person wants.
Bahk: I also would like to talk about the social pressure that pushes me to pursue a connection that I’m not even sure of. People often ask me if I’m in a relationship. When I say ‘no,’ they start looking at me differently as if I was not able to make one, which definitely is not true.
Kim: I think that’s because people regard it as a part of the social norm that we are expected to fulfill.
Bahk: People expect you to accomplish certain things at a certain stage of your life. For example, you are supposed to have a job in your 20s and you are supposed to get married by thirty. If you miss any of those, people think you aren’t doing well.
Yoon: I agree; Korean society values groups over individuals. Sometimes this influences people not to allow individual differences and choices. Due to this trend, education background has become one of the most important factors for me when it comes to dating someone.
Kim: A friend of mine once told me that she was asked about her parents’ occupation on a blind date. I think such conditions as educational background and occupation are becoming increasingly important for young people when they look for a partner.
Yoon: I think that simply shows a lack of affection or chemistry between them. If a guy is really into his partner he would not care about her background.
Bahk: I believe the lack of confidence in him/herself leads people to look for those conditions or background. Maybe they believe that the person they date represents who they are or what they are capable of.
Bahk: I think the Korean media encourages the appearance-oriented mentality. Celebrities on TV all look gorgeous. But the celebrities in Northern Europe such as Sweden and Denmark, where I studied, look like ordinary people. They believe actors/actresses represent the daily lives of the public. Most people are not that good looking, you know.
Yoon: The situations in other countries are quite different. People in dramas, movies and any television show all look normal like ordinary people.
Kim: That’s what I thought when I watched the UK TV series Skins. Having characters that look ordinary makes it easier for the public to relate to them.
Yoon: Speaking of the appearance, I think the media promotes the wrong idea of the beauty and love. But appearance is another major factor in making connections.
Bahk: It has become one of the credentials that you must have.
Kim: Appearance obviously plays a significant role in life, whether it be a job interview, making friends, or at a blind date.
Yoon: That explains the plastic surgery boom among those in their 20s.
Bahk: I think a lack of confidence, namely anxiety, triggers that sort of behavior.
Bahk: Everything requires money. When you meet up with someone, you inevitably spend money, since you have a cup of coffee, at the very least.
Yoon: That’s true. Connections require money. If we do not have money it is almost impossible to have a connection.
Bahk: It takes efforts to build and maintain relationships. Spending money is one of the easiest ways to show how much you value the relationship. It is expected that you give something in return after you receive something; that helps you to build a relationship with someone.
Kim: Money does play a role in maintaining relationships. Sometimes, towards the end of the month, when I’ve spent most of my monthly pay, I tend to avoid meeting up with friends.
Jung: So, do you think more money means more connections?
Yoon: Here is another question. Can a connection based on money be a true one?
Jung: I don’t think money plays a big role in building connections; it requires only minimal amount. With that being said, I believe that’s just an excuse.
Back to connection
Jung: When was the period where you felt the most connected with others?
Yoon: My elementary and middle school years, when the use of cell-phones was not very commonplace, was the period when I felt the strongest connections with other people. Maybe it was because I was young, but obviously at that time I had more time to spend with people, not digital gadgets.
Jung: True. I felt connected with others the most when I was not capable of doing anything by myself; therefore, I always needed someone that could help me. Now, I’m capable of doing many things alone; now, I feel disconnected the most, ever.
Bahk: Regarding the fact that I have constantly come across people that I feel connected to as I live, it is important to show who you really are to find connections. When you know, people will treat you in the same way with their arms open. Of course, there are exceptions.
Jung: What do we ultimately want to be connected for?
Kim: Isn’t it basic human instinct, to wish to be connected with others?
Bahk: I guess people can only see their value through the interaction with others. Although unhappiness stems from comparison with others, you feel connected to others while you’re comparing.
Jung: I definitely can see that I’m less connected with others now, regarding the fact that I do not argue with anyone. I believe you can argue or fight when you are emotionally attached to something, which proves that I’m not attached to anything nowadays. I don’t know why we all have a deep thirst for a connection, although, I believe, the phenomenon itself is obviously true. Maybe that never-satisfied desire for a true connection created religions. What do you think?
Yoon: All in all, I think this built-in hunger for connections is what makes life exciting. It could be a positive energy in this world where people could find satisfaction and happiness through sense of connection.
Jung: A thirst for connections with others is something people are destined to pursue but may never reach. There is a quote from the movie, Before Sunset, “Isn't everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?”