Putting the serious issues that started True Life's season aside, last night's episode focused on couples with online addictions affecting their IRL relationships. The standout story starred Nicole and George, whose internet deceits threatened their young "love".
Nicole and George, whose half of the show could be subtitled First World Problems on the Jersey Shore, are two bronzed paramours who bicker constantly about their over-connectedness and in-person inattention. Nicole's surplus of devices and the anxiety triggered by the thought of separating from them overwhelm her, restricting her focus to her online persona, and making her insanely suspicious of her boyfriend's use of the same social media that define her own life. Unable to deal with George's secret horde of Facebook skanks and in-the-flesh strippers, Nicole struggles to break free from the cycle of cyber-despair, unsure of her worth without assholes to ignore her, uncomfortable with an offline identity.
On a date with her comparatively reticent classmate LJ, a gentlemanly enough slice of beefcake, Nicole is nervous about her budding connection with someone so "disconnected"—a guy who actually interacts with a date and not a computer screen. The romantic attention shocks her, but Nicole is still the same beast. She replaces George with LJ as her Blackberry background, but can't log off long enough for a real conversation. Despite her new beau, she can't escape George and his hypocritical accusations of addiction. Nicole knows she needs connectivity. She can admit she's an addict, but doesn't see any reason to change. She likes her digital dependence. Without her online existence, she has no life; she is no one.
As horrific as Nicole and George appear, and as wretched as their self-made drama is, they are evidence of a larger cultural problem. During their breakup, George learns Nicole has been unfaithful (by his definition) by "talking" to another guy. He asks, "what does 'talking' mean?". The question is the unintentional crux of the whole show. What is talking in an age of pokes and IMs? What is real contact when Wi-Fi's ubiquity forces constant communication? More important than this Jersey Shore beta crew's ridiculous he-said-she-texted bullshit is the underlying fact that the two, representative of their generation, fail to relate to each other or their peers in a traditional sense. The distance the internet creates allows George to envision himself as a superstar and convinces Nicole that she is the center of the world within her friends list. In reality, the two are insecure, overinflated narcissists: a perfect pair for internet overindulgence. The only hope their story offers is the unspoken plea to save socialization and retain human connection in the digital age: tune out, turn off, and drop the call.