Sarah Perry describes technology’s unbundling effect:
Why is technology so often at odds with the sacred? In other words, why does everyone get so mad about technological change? We humans are irrational and fearful creatures, but I don’t think it’s just that. Technological advances, by their nature, tear the world apart. They carve a piece away from the existing order—de-condensing, abstracting, unbundling—and all the previous dependencies collapse. The world must then heal itself around this rupture, to form a new order and wholeness. To fear disruption is completely reasonable.
For example, pre-modern food production and distribution encouraged families to eat together. You got a bunch of food, cooked it, and everyone ate it while it was still hot. There were no fridges to keep leftovers around, microwaves to quickly heat food, pre-prepared frozen meals, or inexpensive restaurant takeout. These constraints around food anchored meals as a time for loved ones, and so a sacred sense of family became condensed into our relationship with food.
There is nothing inherently sacred about food, but the context around it created that sacredness.
Food has, of course, been slowly unbundled over the last 100 years. Arriving with that unbundling are all the attendant concerns about loss of sense of family (which is also being un-bundled from several other angles), hand-wringing about processed foods (probably justified!), and TV shows attempting to recapture the sacredness of food (probably more people watch cooking shows than cook).
This all fits into Sarah’s hypothesis, but my favorite part of her piece is the direction she points in at the end. If there is so much un-bundling and loss of the sacred, then there must also be a re-condensing happening. There must be newly sacred objects and processes emerging from technical progress. The fun question is, what are these newly sacred objects?
Out of our current unbundling, group texts have emerged as sacred.
Group texts are a pillar of family life
In the same way “family dinner” was a foundation of the 20th century vision of familial life, the family group text is foundational to the 21st century vision of family life.
Family was once sync’d and reaffirmed via shared meals. Family now performs that sacred ritual via group texts.
Group texts create new families
This sense of family also extends to groups of friends whom you share chats with. The explicit nature of membership—you either receive the texts or don’t—makes the friend group extremely explicit. This is unlike the vague multi-dimensional Venn-diagram shape of in-person friend groups where some people are closer with others, some folks share certain activities, and others are frequent “special guests” when larger gatherings happen.
In a group chat you’re either in or you’re out. When you’re in you’re privy to all the same context and conversation as everyone else. When someone leaves it has a sense of finality more akin to a breakup than a slow drifting apart.
Group texts are not owned by anyone
Food and its rituals and sacredness can’t be owned by Kraft Foods Group, Inc. Even religion, the most blatantly sacred thing, isn’t owned by a single group. Similarly, group texts cannot belong to a corporation or organization.
Off of the top of my head my group texts are currently spread across all of the following:
- Facebook Messenger
The only features required of an app to become group-text-viable is that 1) you can send and receive messages 2) with multiple people involved. Implementing this baseline functionality is essentially trivial in 2020.
Group texts let you live
The professionalization/brandification of pretty much all social networks has meant interactions trend towards performance and transaction rather than communication. When broadcasting to a broad audience there’s a feeling that you have to condense yourself down. People need to “know” why they’re following you. Whether you explicate it or not, you know certain types of things you share simply get more likes than others. It’s hard to not let that influence what you’re as you slowly (intentionally or not) mold yourself into a “brand”.
Group texts resist this temptation for many reasons. The largest of which is that performance isn’t necessary on the scale of talking with a few friends or family members. Also they’re much more likely to call you on your crap if you do start performing too much.
Group texts are already here
The most profound changes are the most mundane. Group texts have pervasively entered everyone’s life but no one is really talking about them. This is for a lot of the same reasons as above:
- There’s no corporation with a monopoly on them
- Everyone’s been doing them for years
- They’re genuinely good
We’ve frog-boiled ourselves to a future where we have a fantastic new ritual for maintaining family and friendships. That’s about as good an outcome as you can hope for. So let’s recognize and celebrate group texts as the thing they are: newly sacred.