Is Technology Bridging The Emotional Connect For Everyone?

The language of love doesn’t defer to form, shape, appearances…or so we think. The emotion is looked at with such blinkers sometimes, that it misses the fact that love is also about physical height, beauty, career aspirations, and fame that shapes and steers people to the way they assess their partners. Given the focus on such attributes, it is a known fact that people who do not conform to traditional standards of physical and physiological appearance have it very hard when seeking love. It is said that beauty is skin deep, and this does impact love especially when external appearances matter in the overall scheme of things. What then happens to those who lack physical attributes in some way, who are handicapped, cannot see or hear. What of those who belong to the LGBTQ community, where it’s hard to meet and even connect with people deeply, given the taboos around to find that most elusive of emotion!

In the last two decades we are slowly but surely seeing the mainstreaming of people whom we consider ‘others’ – for their interests and proclivities, physical appearance and gender. There is much resistance still, and yet there has been a slow acceptance by society. It was during the Obama Administration that same-sex marriages became legal, and in India it’s been just a few years since same-sex unions pertaining to IPC 377 were legitimized. On the contrary, the physically handicapped are still the ‘others’ constantly fighting for their space to be acknowledged and understood. There is a lack of physical spaces for them and an inconvenience they cannot navigate. Given how hard it is for people to move through impediments – both physical and emotional, it is to be presumed that finding love and closeness among the community can be an even tougher experience.

Technology is in many ways proving to be a boon, while bringing people closer and creating a more inclusive society in the process. It is breaking down physical walls, helping people connect at a deeper level before physical attributes like looks and personality get in, helping find connections that go beyond what society has defined for individuals. But there’s more that technology is doing;

PROMOTING INCLUSIVITY

We’ve already reiterated that technology is bringing people together, irrespective of what separates them. What is it like to be transgender? How can cis-hetero people be good allies to LGBTQ+ friends and family? Why does a lack of eyesight or hearing make someone any less capable or wanted? Resources such as websites and apps are bringing people together, especially communities that find it difficult to connect offline. LGBTQ+ Experiment for example, is a website that helps answer people’s questions about gender, sexuality and sexual orientation in an open, non-confrontational environment, but more importantly is a safe space to meet like-minded folk. Similarly, AbleHere.com is one such community for the disabled online that helps people connect, find friendships and even find love. Given how hard it is for like-minded people to connect offline, online communities not just bring a disparate set of people together but make them feel like they belong, that they are heard and seen, thus creating a space for more meaningful relationships to develop.

ENHANCING SAFETY

Subtle or overt aggression is something that most communities who aren’t considered part of the ‘regular crowd’ feel. The awkwardness of the physically disabled, the need to find a helping hand, the tragic and senseless violence towards the LGBTQ+ community are real, harsh and can sometimes be uncontrolled. Individuals who belong to them have to be more vigilant than everyone else when developing close relationships, both from a space of safety as well as self-preservation. Technology providers have been constantly trying to address these gaps with apps and solutions, driven around giving individuals an additional safety net they can access. GeoSure is one such travel safety app designed for the LGBTQ+ community to help members understand the likelihood of discrimination in their immediate neighborhood, and be cautious of people around them. Technology can include additional checks and balances, such as enhanced profile updates, and balance connectivity as well as security to make the most of every interaction. One of the world’s most popular dating app Tinder – with its millions of users across 190 countries – has niched down several of its categories to create small communities where everything is disclosed upfront and profiles blocked if details are unknown.

NARROWING DISTANCES

Physical distances are difficult to navigate for the differently-abled and other communities, because of the physical, mental as well as emotional impediments. People living across small towns, rural places, those unable to use public transport and closet LGBTQ+ individuals are immensely helped by technology, for simplifying everyday interactions and helping find like-minded people. Distances can be between two physical points of A & B, or the mental distance between a teen and his/her parent. Technology simplifies it for people phenomenally. Adaptive technology such as the Kapten PLUS Personal Navigation Device helps the visually impaired, Google’s ‘Driverless Car’ which is being touted as a huge help for the disabled, and iBot Stair-Climbing Wheelchair are some of the technology solutions that are helping break down physical barriers and narrow down distances.

CREATING NARRATIVES

Media, including television and music streams, podcasts and LIVEs are helping promote artists and individuals from the community, giving them a platform to showcase what they are beyond the restrictive snapshot that society has of them. In the last few years alone, content from various communities has increased manifold leading to acceptance and connects that go beyond physical traits and features. Curated LGBTQ+ playlists are offered by Hulu and various streaming services. TV is getting more adventurous in showcasing content, with even ‘Steven Universe’ from Cartoon Network – a first woman-led animated series receiving a GLAAD media award. Media is helping identify and there have been several instances of people finding others through their stories online.

Given all of the above positive points, one still cannot quite pre-mediate the human element. Lies, deception, difficulty in translating online into offline relationships, showcasing vulnerability, all of this is a part of human frailty and will also show up in such connections.

Technology is truly breaking boxes, borders and blurring lines for communities enough for them to intellectually and emotionally connect with people, before meeting in the physical space. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, but what matters is that it is making the world smaller, our differences more relatable and us more connected.

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Co-authoring this piece with Charmaine Kenita, on my learnings in love, human behavior, education, technology, future challenges, and mapping the way forward.

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