It's Not Technology's Fault
I was with a person a few decades older than me recently and we were talking about technology.
“Don’t you think,” she asked me, “that technology is making us more isolated? We have all these friends who aren’t really our friends.”
I’ve always though that this argument doesn’t really hold much water. Most of the people I know, from any generation, still hang out face to face with their friends. It’s just that they communicate more frequently with them. And as for the gigantic network of barely-know-you acquaintances, that has its own problems, but it doesn’t make me want to see people in person less.
Another friend said: “There’s so much lost in a digital conversations, particularly the body language and nuances of tone. I could say the same thing online and in-person to you and you might receive it differently.”
I agree with that. My thinking is that we either then need to make sure that when we’re talking online, we’re saving the important stuff for in-person conversation. The result of not doing this is a YouTube comment war, or an endless Facebook argument in which no opinion is changed (in other words, a waste of hot air).
Maybe we need to learn to converse better over text and email. One thing I’ve noticed that I’m good at is maintaining relationships with people who are far away using nothing but the Messages app on my phone. And it has to do with the fact that I type a lot, and I type in detail, if I choose to have a conversation over text. And in fact, I will choose not to have a conversation over text if I can’t achieve this level of depth. It requires the other person to be game, as well. Most people text as if they’re trying to type as few characters as possible. And perhaps some people still have a data plan that limits them and that’s understandable as well.
I’m reading a very persuasive book right now called 10 Arguments to Delete Your Social Media Right Now by Jaron Lanier.
Lanier makes some really interesting points about the dangers of social media, things that I didn’t consider before. But what I noticed, and what Jaron points out, is that all of the dangers are related to the behavior of humans, not the behavior of technology.
Facebook advertisers, he claims, are less like advertisers and more like behavior modification experts. This type of manipulation can be really dangerous – especially when a third party decides they want to shape a political mindset. He also argues it brings out everyone’s inner troll because the only real way to gain power online is through attention, and the most efficient way to gain attention is to be an asshole.
So maybe it’s not that we need to keep our kids away from technology (though we should definitely prevent them from getting addicted). Maybe we should teach them how to communicate better, both in-person and online, and also to know when each type of communication is appropriate for a given circumstance.
Maybe we don’t have a technology problem. Maybe it’s a people problem.