Emptiness, absence of transcendence, role swapping, taking on different identities, likes, matches, ambivalence, permissiveness… The digital world, and social networks more specifically, have threatened society as a whole. Nothing is what it seems anymore. Everything can be defended or attacked; limits are only valid in the analogue world, and consequences are pushed aside as a “we’ll see.”
The “lightness” described by Lipovetsky is experiencing its moment of splendor. The ideological model imposed economically led individuals, and especially young people, to believe that they would be the future owners of everything, making them the victims and executioners of consumer society, a society where everything can be compared and sold, and where absolutely everything has an expiration date. What is particularly interesting here is that individuals, in full symbiosis with their context, incorporate the values of the market into their lives, thereby filling their lives with the utmost emptiness.
The millennial generation — the most connected generation to date, beside Generation Z, who have just turned 18 — live absorbed in their virtual reality. This is an environment which allows them to be who they want, when they want.
History, the past, models of thinking, and ideologies don’t make sense to them. This allows them to build fragile models, supported only by individual belief, leading individuals to insecurity emotionally and in their lives. These are the hardly encouraging conclusions from our research project Percepciones de seguridad y actitudes de riesgo en ‘millennials’ vinculados al uso de aplicaciones informáticas afectiva/sexuales. (Security perceptions and risky behavior in millennials linked to the use of emotional/sexual computer applications).
It was to be expected that the digital world would result in a change in the way individuals interact, but that is not what our focus should be. At the Grupo Conocimiento-Investigación en Problemáticas Sociales (Social Issues Knowledge-Research Group), the major problem lies in the models implemented in these relations and, more specifically, in emotional/sexual relations. If we further explore these archetypes, we find violence, sexism, aggressiveness, hyperindividualism, and risk, which promote the perpetuation of patterns only conceivable and admissible within the digital environment inasmuch as the cyborg identity accepts and allows them.
What are the consequences of this change in millennials’ emotional/sexual relations? The consequences are fundamentally epidemiological. For example, the use of prophylaxis during sexual encounters with unknown partners who offer no guarantees of being in good sexual health has decreased or even disappeared in some groups. Moreover, the research identified a group inclined to engage in unprotected sexual activity with people with STDs, with the argument that this is in search of pleasure through adrenaline and temptation.
In mental health, the normalization of aggressive and violent behavior in the ways of meeting, contacting, and beginning relationships exposes individuals to confrontational situations which would not be tolerated in the offline world. After extended use, this makes them feel dirty, humiliated, abused, treated as objects, and unworthy, and thereby has a negative effect on their mental health. Users described to us feelings of anxiety, panic, stress, disappointment, discouragement, and loss of interest that translate to relationships in the offline world.
In terms of criminology, it has been observed that these individuals are bigger risk takers, which inevitably increases their level of individual and collective victimization.
Additionally, they have a fluid concept of relationships, love, and partners, which does not guarantee the individual’s mental or physical health. The disrepute, disappointment, and social vacuum they face as a result of this type of contact lead them to not believe in or trust anyone.
Because the most important thing is the like or the match, this sometimes leads them down a unique pathway to a place which grants more recognition or power, which leads to the dilution of sexual identity and sexual orientation boundaries.
We must conclude by saying that social networks democratize relations, and similarly we must recognize that they empower groups that until recently were stigmatized or had a secondary social status. However, we cannot remain at the surface of this issue. We must continue to delve deeper into analysis.