There are a couple of interesting tidbits for thought coming from the social media side of things. The electronic communities that have promised us relationships in this ever-fragmenting age are now enabling us to disconnect. First, The New Yorker recently informed many of us of an app called Cloak. Its purpose? Unlike other social media apps that help you “connect” with people, this one alerts you to the locations of your followers so that you can avoid them. (Yep, you read that correctly.) And then Twitter announced this month that they are introducing a new “mute” feature to enable a stealthy exit from following that person who might prove to be—well, you know—annoying.

On the subject of easily connecting and disconnecting from relationships—electronic or otherwise—, Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has some interesting commentary in Liquid Love (a book from 2003 it should be noted) on consumerism, control, and anxiety at play in our contemporary relationships. His words seem to dovetail well with Cloak and the new Twitter feature:

…A relationship, the expert will tell you, is an investment like all the others…. If you invest in a relationship, the profit you expect is first and foremost security: security in its many senses—of the nearness of a helping hand when you need it most, of succour in grief, of company in loneliness, of bailing out in trouble, of consolation in defeat and applause in victory; also in the sense of gratification that promptly arrives in the wake of a need. But be warned: promises of commitment to the relationship, once it is entered, are ‘meaningless in the long term’….

It looks as if the quandary has no good solution. Worse still, it seems that it is pregnant with a paradox of the most invidious sort: not just that the relationship fails to gratify the need it was meant (and hoped) to placate, but that it makes that need yet more vexatious and trying. You sought the relationship in the hope of mitigating the insecurity that haunted your loneliness; but the therapy has all but inflamed the symptoms, and now you feel perhaps even less secure than before, even if the ‘new and aggravated’ insecurity oozes from different quarters. If you thought that the interest on your investment in company would be paid in the hard currency of security, you seem to have acted on wrong assumptions.

4-breakupThis is trouble and nothing but trouble, but not the whole trouble. A commitment to a relationship that is ‘meaningless in the long term’ (of which both sides are aware!) is two-edged sword. It makes the holding or the forfeiting of the investment a matter of your calculation and decision — but there is no reason to suppose that your partner won’t wish, if need be, to exercise a similar discretion and won’t be free to do so if and when she or he wishes. Your awareness of this adds yet more to your uncertainty — and the bit it has added is the most difficult to endure: unlike in the case of your own ‘keep it or leave it’ choice, it is not in your power to prevent your partner from opting out from the deal. You can do pretty little to change the partner’s decision in your favour. For your partner, you are the stock to be sold or the loss to be cut — and no one consults the stocks before sending them back to the market, or the losses before cutting them out.

…Loneliness spawns insecurity — but relationship seems to do nothing else. In a relationship, you may feel as insecure as without it, or worse. Only the names you give your anxiety change.