You know what really grinds my gears? When kids younger than me complain about the digital age communication systems are ruining society as a whole. When middle aged housewives or aging pointy haired managers do that I get it. I understand where they are coming from. They grew up in an analog world and the digital age frightens them. No wonder they are concerned about their kids spending all their time on them face book and twatters. It is an intellectual handicap which can be corrected with some effort. Sadly most people around that age usually consider themselves past the “learning age” and are reluctant to try new things. So there is not much you can do about it. It is in human nature to be frightened by things we do not understand.
But when younger people do this, I am perplexed. I’m 30, and I get it but you don’t? What the hell? You are supposed to be the next wave of world leaders and the fact you are acting like a future shocked grandpa is seriously concerning me. I always hoped that the generations who grew up in and around the digital age will eventually bring some sanity into our governments and will stop thwarting progress by trying to legislate major social and cognitive paradigm shifts out of existence. But I guess there are still cohorts of people in their 20’s who are still firmly entrenched in the same analog-age philosophy that our parents cling to.
I’m talking about the fear mongering and whining about kids these days spending all their time on Facebook instead of actually hanging out, texting instead of calling, and finding interesting friends and potential mates via the internet rather than narrowing their choices to the small number of people they hang out with in meat space. Apparently the chief culprit of this disastrous new developments is Facebook which supposedly changed everything forever.
Here is the thing: Facebook did not really change anything. It did not revolutionize interpersonal communication. It simply mainstreamed and popularized changes that took place long before it. The events that changed how we communicate were the birth of the internet, dawn of the world wide web, explosion of email and instant messaging services and developments in mobile technology. Emergence of social networks slowly bound the new communication channels, streamlined and standardized them. Ubiquity of Facebook simply means that everyone is on the same platform. But the wave of progress was already in motion before it was even a twinkle in Mark Zuckerbergs eye. The clock was already ticking back then. The paradigm shift we are noticing goes much further and much deeper than Facebook, or even the social networking phenomena. It existed before, and it will exist long after Facebook peters out. What you are seeing is people incorporating new modes communication into their daily lives more tightly than ever. One of the things they are using more and more is asynchronous real time communication.
This is something that did not exist in analog world. Back in the dark ages you could either call someone on the phone (synchronous real time) or send them a snail-mail letter (asynchronous, but not real time) and get an answer several days later. With the advent of internet we obtained ability to send asynchronous messages via email, texting, social network messaging, etc.. You can shoot someone a quick message, and go on with your life. They will get it immediately, but can read it and reply to it whenever it is convenient. You don’t have to stop what you are doing, you don’t have to waste any time. It is useful and convenient. Is there any wonder that people want to use it all the time? I mean, it is there. Why not take a full advantage of it.
This popularity of asynchronous communication however is what seems to frighten the old, and the technologically inept. A lot of people view it as impersonal and antisocial. The slippery slope argument is that we will eventually eschew every other method of communication, descend into our basements and communicate asynchronously for the rest of our lives, completely losing the ability to socialize. Or something like that. The point is, that it is incredibly silly and naive way to view things. Especially since the same wave of progress that gave us the “antisocial” messaging protocols also delivered things like video chat. People whine that the new technology pushes as apart more than it brings us together, but that’s entirely subjective. For example, these days I can talk to my mom face to face across the entire fucking Atlantic ocean.
Change is not always bad folks. I guess this all goes back to the irrational anti-progress attitude that grows out of the “good old days” and fear of the new. Yes, the internet is changing the way we communicate, but it is not necessarily for the worse. It gives us new ways to connect, get to know each other, flirt and exchange views. My cousin met her husband online, and they messaged, emailed chatted and texted each other for a while before they finally met in person. If it wasn’t for dating sites, social networks and asynchronous communication they probably would not be together right now. There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of couples like them out there.
I have seen countless, genuine friendships that flowered out of random pointless online bullshit. And I mean real life relationships – people who met at online forums would meet at conventions, share hotel rooms, crash at each others houses when traveling and etc. They maintained actual long distance friendships many years after whatever fandom/geek community that brought them together has ceased to exist. The internet allowed me to meet interesting and awesome people I would otherwise have never run into.
In my mind, these new communication media are opposite of socially harmful. They broaden our horizons, and expand the range across which we are able to connect with each other. I hear people complaining that the online communication is non-committal and impersonal compared to bolder and more brash ways of the old. But that does not really mean anything. Genuine human connection can, and does often form along these lines of communication, and frequently escalates to meat-space relationships. Customs and social norms change every few generations. Perhaps now in the digital age we are simply more subtle and careful – we frequently poke, prod and evaluate each other online before we engage in some sort of real world relationship. Is it wrong? Or does it just seem wrong to you because you don’t understand it? Because it is different from what you are familiar with?
If you think that services such as Facebook, Twitter and mobile technology have negative impact on our society then I suggest investing into a large lawn so that you tell local kids to get off of it. These things are not going away, and kids are not going to stop exploring the new communication channels, and use them to form their relationships just because you happen to think there is a proper old fashioned protocol they ought to follow instead.
Remember folks – right now progress follows an exponential curve. It is speeding up every year. The next 2-3 decades is going to be when the shit really hits the fan. Things will change in weird, unexpected ways so I suggest that you strap in and get on with the program. Otherwise you will have a lot of new things to whine about soon.