Ghosting and the Machines: Media Devices, Normalizing Behaviors (Part 1)

March 25, 2019 Mute. Block. Unfriend. Delete. Ghost. It’s fast, effective and final, but these one-click solutions that treat humans like devices are creating behaviors that are almost algorithmic in their ability to place value, assign patterns, and assess an ‘effort to yield’ ratio that determines whether someone rates a diss and dismiss based on level of contact and whether they’ll have to “deal” with them again.

There used to be a touch of reticence, or even the sting of shame associated with ignoring, disengaging, or selectively shunning a person you’ve had prior contact with, but now? Not so much. In fact, the justification of ghosting is on the upswing with the normalization of “everyone’s doing it” becoming the all too familiar peer protocol across generations.

Not all millennials should probably warrant a hashtag of its own, but this series is about a cultural credo emerging across generations and a societal shift that’s spooking some of us that have deep roots in media literacy with the utmost desire for communication and conversational skills to flourish not flounder amidst our era of information overload and tech tools. How can we use media and our media devices to become MORE humane not less?

Media portrayals have amplified and normalized ghosting by scripting lame excuses of conflict avoidance and depicting ghosting as an acceptable way to avoid hurting people’s feelings in the name of dodging direct rejection. What kind of wuss wisdom is that?

Do we really want to treat each other like devices to be tossed like a spent burner phone?

Learning to cope with rejection in its various forms  is a life skill equally as important as “The Gift of Failure” which I wrote about extensively, interviewing author Jessica Lahey about her book by the same name. Truth is, neither of these life skills are being reinforced as a cultural competency when tech tools are deployed as an ‘easy out’ in a tactless game of relationship dodgeball.

“Just don’t reply,” is the catch all cop out appropriated from online dating spheres, which is now pervasively applied to situational angst. In short, ghosting appears NOT to be vanishing, it’s showing up ANYTIME things get a bit awkward and the task of a decline is too much to “handle.”

Layer in the ease of using devices to minimize friction and buffer discomfort and we have a bunch of human beings lacking coping skills and resilience that depend on their technology to run interference for them..Gee, what could possibly go wrong?

It’s a paradox of fragility…The “softness” of human foibles shielding themselves from ‘complications’ in the social emotional sphere leads to a “hardness” of an increasingly course, brash, ‘throw away’ culture.

The faster we propel ourselves into a world where foundational relationships become transactional ones, the more our moral compass goes “sproing” like a Looney Tunes cartoon.

“I don’t owe you anything” attitudes coupled with “too busy to respond or not important enough to” styles have started to permeate and proliferate like those Demogorgon creatures in Stranger Things. The beast has grown…

From political favors to collegiate scandals, transactional relationships deploying ghosting behaviors are becoming normative. Poof. Just vanish. Control, alt delete. Make the problem go away…and of course the ubiquitous, “They’ll get the hint.”

Vapid values or a sign of the times?

The “outreach, connect, vanish” trilogy is also surfacing in the hiring process, with the increase of ghosting in the workplace (by both employer/employee) as well as scenarios at school (play dates/parental promises/volunteer commitments) and other behavioral low bars where people somehow think it’s okay to blow off one another with zero accountability.

Then there’s the brazen “I outreached for X, but no longer have a need for that,” ghosting which used to be normative mostly in those gawdawful networking groups of small talk chit chat where people stare at your badge, size up your usefulness and pivot to the next person like predatory vermin.

Ghosting is not vanishing, it’s now showing up in the workplace and beyond…

This transactional approach to relationships is appearing regularly on professional sites like LinkedIn with ‘asks’ and stranger outreach collecting people to ‘use and dump’ with zero guilt by association, or worse yet, a brazen ‘no response is a response’ attitude with new hires and job placement. On the employee side, once upon a time no one would dare the reputation risk of being a ‘no show’ after being hired in a new position, now it’s happening regularly and ghosting occurs on both sides of the hiring gates.

In part two, we’ll look at how ghosting, bots, devices and artificial intelligence have altered the landscape, with ghosting in the workplace  and human resources losing some of the root word “human” in the process. Again, it’s paradoxical that in an era of automation an employer somehow justifies ghosting candidates that may have jumped through umpteen hoops only to never hear back from them again. How hard is it to simply e-blast or code a ‘thanks but we’ve filled the position’ mass response in this era? What gives?

Media has normalized and amplified ghosting behavior

In part three of the series, we’ll explore how ghosting has slid into normalization through sitcom references, hit TV show plotlines, phone culture and pop culture positioning in the media marketplace of mindshare. There are even Ghost Bot apps to outsource the process of disconnecting via device, eliminating human conduits altogether and turning over an abrupt disappearance into a slow fade via machine.

“They’ll never guess it’s a bot!” has me ramping up my own burner phone to test out the beast myself. Hmn. Would YOU rely on a Siri clone to accurately frame your sign off? How might it feel to be dumped by bot without even knowing if a human is doing the dumping?

Putting aside my own bias of ghosting as a spinelessly transparent jellyfish move, could there be a time when abrupt cut-offs in communication are well-warranted, for safety and self-protection? 

We’ll look at ghosting’s impact on the behavioral psyche, along with some sidewinder scenarios showing how ‘disappearing’ can result in some unintentional blowback turning a ghostee into a social media ‘orbiter’ with some less than healthy stalking scenarios to try to make sense of it all. Meanwhile…

Open call for storytelling anecdotes from both the ghosted and the ghosters…

Youth focus groups now in progress. Stay tuned!

Label Literacy: A Pop Culture Relationship Primer

Ghosting: Vanishing altogether by ‘not replying’ via text, phone, or social media channels after having had prior conversational contact (from casual to ongoing more profound connections)

Submarining: Diving deep into the abyss of non-communication then surfacing out of the blue (also known as haunting, zombieing, etc.)

Breadcrumbing: Leaving a trail of tidbits that keep you conversationally engaged without expending much energy to follow through on a real connection (keeping options open)

Orbiting: Circling around your social sphere ‘liking’ photos/posts and signaling a presence (can be used in both a flattering context and an ominous one, or even a ‘we’re still interested and watching what you’re up to workplace mode)

Ghosting Visual Credit: Alexas_Fotos, PhotosForClass.com

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