How many times have you heard people long for the good old days when people weren’t so connected that they became, effectively, disconnected from world? Movie critic Peter Travers recently wrote that the current generation can very much relate to the image of someone sitting in front of a glowing computer screen pretending not to be alone. An article from the UK cited a study that showed that Facebook “is a haven for narcissistic people because they can establish a large number of hollow 'friendships' without having to establish a real relationship”.
Being anti-technology seems to be a trendy thing. The self-righteous techno-haters throw out their favorite comments: “I don’t watch TV…I read books”, “If I need to get a hold of them I’ll call them, I don’t need to text”, or the ol’ “kids these days and their (insert device here)”.
I once met someone who surprised me very much. He was a professor in one my international relations classes my senior year. He also happened to be pretty old. He once told our class about how his peers—the educated elderly you could say—looked down so much on the youth and technology, and how it ruined the world and made it so we don’t even talk to each other anymore. Nonsense, he argued! We can talk to each other from the other side of the world instantaneously. We can keep in touch with people who we would possibly have never talked to after becoming geographically separated. We can access and share information quicker and more effectively than ever before. And how is this a bad thing?
It is highly difficult to truly keep in touch with people. I’m in the military. Trust me. I know what it’s like to meet people and move. In the last four years I’ve lived in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Ohio. How many people would I have lost touch with if all I had was a home phone? Instead I can write on Nikola's wall, text Dustin, and call Kristen on my way home from work. It is most definitely inferior to spending quality time with someone. Given the choice between going to see the Pacific Ocean with Brie vs. commenting on her status, it’s not even close (I choose ocean). But the point is that given the choice between commenting on her status and not talking to her at all as she does her thing in Washington and I do my thing in Ohio, I’m gonna comment on her status.
I can hardly count the ways that technology has made things better. Communicating with my family is so much easier. In the last few days I have talked with my sister while I drove home from Cincinnati and she took a ferry in Seattle, I’ve exchanged e-mails with my dad, I’ve chatted online with David, I’ve gone back and forth on facebook with my mom, and I’ve texted with Ryan. Oh yes (heavy sarcasm), technology detaches us. I haven’t even touched on the other wonders, such as how when I wanted Thai food today I typed the name of the place into my phone at the gym, found the number online, called in my order, and picked it up 10 minutes later. Think about it, that’s amazing!
I suppose it’s only fair that I touch on whether or not there is some detachment. Are there people who exchange “real” relationships for harmful cyber ones? I suppose so. But to the lonely kid who feels socially disconnected, is finding folks online with common interests so harmful? What is the alternative? Detachment is hardly the real problem, which I argue is probably the anonymity that online relationships provide, leading to issues like trolling and bullying.
I conclude with this: Just a little while back I went to a golf tournament with my dad and brothers in Seattle. Golf tournaments, as you might know, are decidedly anti-cell phone. This led to interesting problems. Where do we meet? How do we find each other? The old fashioned “meet in place x at time time y” made us even realize that we can’t even tell time without our cell phones.
Technology doesn’t lead to detachment (it leads to dependency), so save me your anti-techno superiority and dive freely into a world where you can chat on GMail with your brother in Kyrgyzstan, e-mail your wife in Romania, text your dad about pending no-hitters, and plan road trips with friends in Arkansas. When my dad used to go out onto ships in the Navy communication with my mom was sparse. Now I can share new music with Bob and John in Afghanistan. This is not a bad thing.