How the internet ruined interpersonal communication

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.

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9 Responses to How the internet ruined interpersonal communication

  1. astine UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    I don’t know Luke, I have friends who I communicate with through Facebook, email, phone and face-to-face and face-to-face is always betters. I find it difficult to maintain a relationship with someone I only communicate through secondary means compared to people I see everyday. It’s not that the Internet is necessarily damaging, I certainly like ease with which it me to meet and keep up with others, but at the end of the day, I feel like I can’t really get to know someone unless I meet them in person. (That is, unless maybe, they are extremely extroverted online, which many of the most interesting people aren’t.) You just miss so much by way of non-verbal communication as well as thought and notions which would usually be filtered out of email or Facebook. Of course, I think that the existence of the Internet is overall a good thing. Email, blogs, message boards, etc are a benefit rather than a curse, but face-time (by which I don’t mean video-chat) is better.

    I have other complaints. I don’t like having to maintain an online persona. I don’t like how how so much of the Internet require a degree extroversion that I don’t have. I don’t like how I need to police my reputation even if I don’t regularly post embarassing stuff to my Facebook page. I don’t like how nearly every one of my words online is saved somewhere easily googlable by someone who is just nosy and bored enough. I dislike how even if I meet someone in person, they expect to be freinds on Facebook too and I can no longer just have a meat-space relationship like I used to, I have to be cyber-friends with everone as well.

    You’ll note that most of the complaints are against Facebook and social networks and the Internet in general. I hate Facebook with a passion, for so many reasons. But notice that none of them really has anything to do with nostalgia or fear of the Internet/Facebook. Most are actual problems that I’ve been bit by. I still appreciate the benefits of email and the like but I think that they arte a mixed blessing. If that makes me some kind of Naderite, then so be it.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    astine wrote:

    I have friends who I communicate with through Facebook, email, phone and face-to-face and face-to-face is always betters. I find it difficult to maintain a relationship with someone I only communicate through secondary means compared to people I see everyday.

    I completely agree. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough, but to me online communication is just one of the many media we can use to stay connected. I never claimed it could replace regular face-to-face interaction. That would be silly. It just gives us another way to stay in touch – in addition to talking on the phone, or meeting face to face.

    I agree that it is difficult to get to know someone without meeting them in person. But like I said – often online interaction may lead to real life relationships.

    astine wrote:

    I don’t like having to maintain an online persona. I don’t like how how so much of the Internet require a degree extroversion that I don’t have.

    Interesting. I’m an introvert but I feel quite opposite. I have no problem maintaining an online persona because I can do that on my own convenience. Furthermore I feel like I have more control over how I present myself online and via the written word than in person. For example, I can sit here and think for a few minutes on how to phrase my comment and revise it to my liking, whereas in real-time conversation I have mere seconds to respond.

    I usually don’t blab this much in person – I am pretty quiet actually. But this little soapbox of mine lets me rant about whatever comes to my mind.

    astine wrote:

    I dislike how even if I meet someone in person, they expect to be freinds on Facebook too and I can no longer just have a meat-space relationship like I used to, I have to be cyber-friends with everone as well

    Hmmm…. See I never really thought about it like that. To me this is just another medium. It’s like giving someone my phone number or my email. I don’t really spend that much time using Facebook or Google plus or whatever. But it is a nice and convenient way to reach people with trivial non-urgent (not phone worthy) queries, share pictures and etc…

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  3. Eric UNITED STATES Google Chrome Ubuntu Linux says:

    I could easily see us turning into the Solairians from Asimovs book foundation and Earth. They were hermaphrodites who lived alone and only had communication with other people via video conferencing when there was no other choice.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Eric:

    Really? I don’t see that ever happening. We are actually social animals. People enjoy going out and meeting each other face to face. Even introverts do enjoy human contact. What we are talking about here are just tools that help us communicate better.

    The invention of the telephone did not undermine the fabric of our society. We incorporated it into our daily lives. It is the same with these new asynchronous communication methods and social media. It’s just another way to communicate.

    If you observe the verbal traffic on your Facebook wall for a while you will notice that a lot of it is tied to real life events:

    - people gossiping about who is in relationship with whom
    - people sharing pictures from events and outings they have been to together
    - people organizing parties and/or social events
    - people organizing informal ad-hoc gatherings (ie. “hanging out in the quad with X and Y, join us”)

    These tools are used as extension of our real life relationship – not as replacement.

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  5. cptacek UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Dear Luke,
    I stumbled on your blog 2-3 weeks ago, searching for something regarding batch files. Don’t remember what it was, really. I do know the post was from sometime in 2006. You fixed my problem, so yay! But, since then, I’ve read, or at least clicked through every entry you have made. There was a time around the 2008 entries where I was wondering…does he make it to today, present day, 2011? I didn’t look at the side bar that archives all of your posts just to keep the suspense building. And once I made it to this page, and there were no more “next post” links, I felt like I got to the end of the internet :)

    You have a very entertaining blog here, sir. I’ve kept some bookmarks to some previous blog posts you made I wanted to comment on, but wanted to get here, to the current ending, before making them. Don’t know why. It was like my own little internet quest.

    Oh, and your Crossloop suggestion has helped me get a freelance job. Thanks!

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  6. Dave Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    It’s perhaps not the technology itself which is good or bad, but rather the perceived outcome of using said technology based on each users experience/interaction with it.

    One could say SMS is great for popping a quick text off to a loved one or friend to see if they remembered to pick up the laundry or if they wanna go fishing on the weekend.

    One could also say SMS is terrible when one sees a group of youngsters hanging out, except they are all engrossed in their phones and texting each other instead of engaging in conversation.

    “Guns don’t kill people – people kill people”

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ cptacek:

    Thanks! It’s always nice to hear that someone got a great deal of enjoyment of this here blog. I hope you stick around and continue reading into the future. I have no intentions of stopping to write any time soon. :)

    @ Dave:

    See, I have never seen that. Maybe it’s because I just don’t typically go where “youngsters” hang out but from casual observations while on college campus or out and about, most young people don’t text each other when hanging out. They text other people who could not be there or perhaps live tweeting/facebooking the event so that other friends can experience it vicariously.

    I really don’t think it is impacting verbal communication or interpersonal relationships, though it probably does impact their writing skills a bit. I do see text speak sometimes bleeding into the homeworks… Then again, I usually blame gaps in high school education rather than the technology itself for this.

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  8. Adrian BELGIUM Opera Windows says:

    I kind of hate how everything has to be tied in with everything else. Professional contacts, friends, acquaintances, .. they all have to be on the same platform, i.e., Facebook.

    I used to mail with professional contacts and perhaps acquaintances, MSN with friends, chat ingame with fellow gamers and blab about on IRC with linux enthousiasts and hackers (not crackers) and whatnot. Now it’s all a jumbled mess of people using a generic platform that isn’t particularly suited to the goal.

    And in fact, I believe this is completely unnatural to our society.
    When you’re out with friends and you meet a colleague (one who’s more colleague than friend), more often then not, it becomes incredibly awkward.

    We have social circles. Not a circle.

    But, I also have to note that in some cases, FB et al have made a relationship with someone much more valuable.

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  9. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Adrian:

    Which is exactly the implementation of Google+. The only way to share with people is to put them in “circles” and then you choose what you share to which circle, and how much of your profile and information each circle is allowed to see.

    Facebook has that too, implemented by friend lists but it is has less granularity.

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