Internet damages intimate relationships, says academic

INTERNET dating and online sites such as Facebook and Twitter are damaging intimate human relationships and creating a new generation of goldfish bowl voyeurs.

NUI Maynooth Professor of Irish Literary and Cultural Studies Luke Gibbons maintains “context-free” communication and the opening up of private lives for all to see is eroding intimacy in Irish society.

In a paper which addresses the impact of the internet and social networking sites, to be given on Monday in NUI Maynooth, Prof Gibbons offers a comprehensive overview of the role of cinema and popular culture in Irish attitudes to the body, sexuality and intimacy.

Harking back to a different Ireland, he recalls a project undertaken by the sociology department in Maynooth 50 years ago.

The Limerick Rural Survey, whose first volume was published in July 1960, pointed out that whereas tradition and social stability were the preserve of the mother in Irish society, restlessness and social change were identified with daughters, and young, unattached females in general.

Another view is from the 1957 Catholic Truth Society pamphlet, which remarks that motion pictures often offend “by glamorising life” and give spectators the impression their own lives are dull and foolish compared with lives portrayed onscreen.

Prof Gibbons’s paper, Technologies of Desire: Inner Life, Modernity and the Media in Irish Culture, argues that cinema’s capacity to awaken dormant desires was particularly threatening to a traditional rural society that regarded marriage primarily in economic terms.

“Hollywood’s version of romantic love and its passionate embrace did not just offer escapist dreams but helped to undermine the ethos of matchmaking and family pressures that regulated relationships in Irish society,” he said.

However, Prof Gibbons maintains that no sooner did we rid ourselves of the repressive values of a “squinting windows” bygone era than we are returning to that very same culture, albeit under a modern technological guise – the internet.

And, he argues it is no coincidence that the erosion of intimacy encourages the “radical transparency” of private life extolled by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, as the governing principle of online relationships.

Not only are we laying out our private lives for all to see, social networking sites and internet dating are replacing human contact with “emoticons” such as smiley faces, and giving rise to speech devoid of intonation and images without peripheral vision, he maintains.

The challenge is not to reject technological innovation but to ensure it does not take place at the expense of the arts, humanities and social sciences – quite literally, where funding and public policy is concerned, Prof Gibbons says.


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