Empty Vessels latest production Smart centres on relationships in the digital age and the question: is it really betrayal if it's virtual?
We live increasingly in a screen-based world; at times even our families can seem remote. It came as no surprise that I was the only middle-aged person in the audience of mostly millennials. Text is their medium, Snapchat, Whatsapp, swiping left or swiping right. Choose your platform.
In a digital world how do we manage our real, physical relationships? Where does the boundary exist between the real and the virtual? What constitutes betrayal?
Grace is ‘happily’ married with a nice house, nice kids and a nice husband. Immy, Grace's sister, challenges the status quo: is Grace happy, fulfilled? Is the comfortable, safe kind of love enough? Does her husband Steve really still do it for her?
Immy sets Grace up on Tinder and arranges a girls' night out as her wingwoman. Here she meets a much younger man. Thus begins an increasingly complicated web of lies, betrayals, duplicity. How far can an innocent flirtation go and remain just that?
Grace becomes more distant from her family as she increasingly engages with the screen and the distant fantasy. Exchanged texts are shown on screen and animated by the protagonists. She changes the code on her phone, tries to explain to her husband she is trying to regain a bit of herself, she asks him who she is - he replies 'my wife, a mother' - always mediated in relation to someone else, she retorts.
The boundaries get blurred, minor indiscretions turn to lies. She deletes one app to be drawn onto another. The language changes from light flirtation becoming more sexually imbued and explicit. Flirting turns to sexting until she implicates her sister when she goes to meet him at his flat.
Then the ultimate in modern digital faux pas - she sends a text and receives a reply saying I don't think that was meant for me.
It’s a common story. It raises the question of how do we actually connect with people in the digital world? The expectation is to be ultra connected digitally but what about our actual physical relationships and experiences. People are so obsessed with recording events they’re at or instagramming photos that they actually forget to be where they are and fully experience what it is they are doing. Everything it seems is mediated through a screen and app.
As this develops the boundary between the virtual and real worlds becomes ever more amorphous. The more digitally connected we are it seems, the more disconnected we are from the physical. The expectations of who and what we are and can be are changing. For the digitally native millenials it may be easier to navigate. Part of the dis/connect with the swipe left swipe right culture and the meeting purely for recreational sex is the inherent meaninglessness or lack of connection on an emotional level. Yes, it is a physical experience, but how connected in the true sense of the word is it?
How can we maintain and develop a sense of self in the real world and have a fulfilling identity in the digital world without becoming totally obsessed. Can we walk that tightrope between FOMO – the Fear Of Missing Out – and Digital or NeoNarcissism without falling down the digital rabbit hole and losing ourselves completely? (AM)
Smart is on at 14.00 at C Nova until 12th August - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/smart
On Digital Narcassism: https://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2014/mar/13/selfie-social-media-love-digital-narcassism
On Digital Dating: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/08/tinder-hook-up-culture-end-of-dating
On Generation Y: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/14/generation-y-online-dating-technology-relationships_n_2457722.html