The Age of the “Liquid” Relationship?

One of the main concerns over the impact of the new electronic communication on society is the ongoing process of the “liquefaction” of the human relationship, as one of the outcomes of modernity.[1] The modern society, according to Bauman, is “fluid” and everything it contains is in a constant “fluidity” before even finding a shape.[2] Modernity was not launched to bypass the “solids”, referring to the pre-modern structures, such as family, tradition, community, religion, etc., which maintained the rigidity of a society, but to create a more efficient and integrated order “which one could trust and rely upon and which would make the world predictable and therefore manageable.”[3] “Melting the solids,” borrowed from Marx by Bauman, meant first and foremost getting rid of “tradition”, “loyalties”, “familial duties”, “beliefs”, “irrelevant obligations” “customary rights” and whatever resisting the new structures and “taste” of the “modern spirit.”[4] The new wave of the “profanation of the sacred” and “dethroning of the past” alongside the increasing rationalization of the economy, “deregulation,” “liberalization,” and “flexibilization,”[5] led to the elimination of any alleged bond suspected of resistance against time, and the  abolishment of any obstacle constraining “the individual freedom to choose and to act.”[6]

In such a “fluid” society and in the absence of the traditional bonds, codes and “reference groups” given in advance to the individuals to be looked at and chosen , they are faced with diverse, and sometimes conflicting and “contradicting” rules, meant “to be shaped and reshaped” by “life-politics”,  rather than “ preceding and framing its future course.”[7]At the heart of this unsure system is placed the “human relationship,” since the decline of the traditional “human bonds” and the emergence of new insecurity and risk have dropped individuals into a confusing situation. Human relationship in the “liquid modernity” is treated like consumer goods favouring immediate access to the new supplies, and getting rid of them, so that one can easily jump to another un-experienced and “untried sensations.”[8] Bauman views the emergence of the new communication technologies as another aspect of the “liquid modernity,” which has fostered the “liquefaction” of the human relations while giving rise to novel forms of interpersonal communication. [9]

The advent of the electronic mediums has also blurred the boundaries between time and space, paving the way to the liberated relation construction from the burden of space. The result is, thus, the arrival of a “virtual proximity” independent of “the physical closeness,” although being geographically close doesn’t imply “proximity” anymore.[10]  Bauman doesn’t blame the decline of the face-to-face encounters, merely, on the escalating electronic-mediated communications, on the contrary he considers them as the prerequisites of the “liquid era,” which requires individuals to keep pace with the “fluid” society where nothing keeps its shape for long time. Moreover, “the virtual proximity” of the electronic communication in “the liquid modern world” has advantages not found in the face-to-face communication, which demands more skills to build a relationship[11]; given for example an online dating or relationship shaping, where one “can always press delete,” while in a face-to-face relationship “ice once broken may stay broken or melt once and for all.”[12] Moreover, various open choices in online dating, less emotional damages and reduced risks alongside the shrinking role of the social skills ,required for face-to-face relationships, have been pushing the new generation more and more towards the online relationships construction than traditional face-to-face encounters.[13] Although Bauman regards these features as the advantages of the electronic-mediated relations, he concludes that they, ultimately, turn human relations “more shallow, more intense and more brief.”[14]

Zohreh


[1] Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003)

[2] Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 2000)

[3] Ibid,3

[4] Ibid, 3-4

[5] Ibid

[6] Bauman (2000), 5

[7] Ibid, 7

[8] Bauman (2003), 50

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid, 62

[11] Ibid, 64

[12] Bauman (2003), 65

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid, 62

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