Technology Brings us Closer

I honestly don’t know where do the normal folk get their notions about technology. They must be talking about this stuff on Faux News or some other low brow TV shows because I keep hearing people mouth the same tired old, techno-phobic catch-phrases without thinking. It is as if at some point the society at large established that technology is bad, but we are gonna have it anyway, and there is to be no re-evaluating of this position.

I have no clue why so many people got into their heads that the Internet is a “mixed bag” that offers a lot of benefits but also has a lot of drawbacks. It is great for research, education, business, commerce, self improvement, entertainment and etc, they say, but it is bad for the society as a whole. It pulls people apart. It makes them interact less.

My question is: on what planet exactly is this estrangement happening? Where the fuck does the internet (and technology in general) erect walls to human interaction? Because I’m certain it is not on planet Earth, or at least not on the East Coast of the United States. Where I live, the internet has been a force of good, wholesomeness and it actually brings people closer.

Let me give you a few examples from my personal life. Granted most of this is anecdotal evidence, but so is the shit other people use to justify their (incorrect) opinions so it’s not like I’m braking rules here.

One of the most common complains about technology is the text vs talk straw-man argument: that we text more than we talk these days. And yes, it is a straw-man because text messaging did not replace or subvert regular telephony in any way. It simply provided another channel for communication.

In the olden days (that so many people seem to long for) you had to wheel out your rotary phone and painstakingly dial a long number, wait for the other person to pick up the phone, say “hello” couple of times back and forward, and then communicate the actual message along the lines of “I shall be departing shortly, and ought to be with you within a fortnight”.

These days you just text the other person “I’ll be there in 5min” and you are done. Its quick, easy and most importantly asynchronous. The recipient of the text message does not need to be at their phone, or even have it with them in order to receive the message. It is like email for your phone – or like a quicker, more convenient version of voice-mail. Convenient because you can read it instead of listening to it.

It is fundamentally different and used for different purposes: asynchronous communication vs synchronous conversation. It is an additional communication channel and I’d say having another way to communicate with a fellow human over the distance is an improvement.

And yes, people text more than they call. Why? Because it is better. When voice was all we got, we used it for everything. If you only have a hammer, then every problem starts looking like a nail. If you have a hammer and a screwdriver, then you suddenly realize half of the “nails” are actually screws and you can use the more appropriate tool.

I seriously don’t need you to call me for everything. If you need me to pick up milk after work, fucking text me. If you want to let me know you gonna be here in 5 minutes we don’t need to have a conversation. If you want to send me a funny picture of your cat… Well, good luck doing that over the phone line.

Phones are for intimate, personal conversations – it is for the important stuff. It is for telling someone you love them, or that you miss them. Voice communication is for those times when you want to empathize and connect. Text is for impersonal daily bullshit. I see no problem here.

And if you still long for the times of voice only communication, what about Skype and Face Time? Yes, text messaging is impersonal, but it is not the only thing we got out of this whole internet and telephony revolution. We also got video phones – like in the old science fiction movies. Those forms of communication are actually more personal because you can actually see the other person. It is as close, intimate and personal as you can get without actually meeting in person. The spectrum goes both way.

But you will notice that people use Skype and Face Time less often than they use regular telephony. Why? Because voice only communication is more convenient.

Somehow people got it in their heads that back in the day people communicated more, because they had to do it in person. This is absolutely false. Or rather, the people who lived close to each other probably did this. But if you moved to another town or city, the communication was often severed or severely restricted.

Do you really think things were better when people had to either meet face to face, or write snail-mail letters? I do not. My mom lives on a different fucking continent – an ocean away. And yet, I can talk to her every other day via Skype.

Hell, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs I am able to keep in touch with friends and relatives that I never really meet in person because we just live too far away, or have too incompatible schedules to be able to hang out often. And yet, we talk, interact and are big part of each-other’s lives. If it wasn’t for social networking, we would probably grow apart and become estranged.

You want to know another funny thing? My cousin met her husband thanks to online dating. If it wasn’t for the internet, she would have never met him. They didn’t have any mutual friends, they did not share same hangouts and their social spheres did not intersect at any point. Based on their work, their schedules and preferences it would be extremely unlikely for them to even bump into each other on the street by accident. But thanks to the magic of the internet they met, hit it off and are now happily married.

I honestly do not understand how could anyone claim the technology we have now is tearing people apart, deteriorating the social connections and erecting walls that impede interpersonal communication. In my experience, the technology is doing the exact opposite. It provides us with new, more specialized channels of communication. It makes communication faster and more immediate. It makes physical distances irrelevant to interpersonal relationships. It allows people to be involved and plugged into the lives of their close ones even if they live far away. Technology is wonderful, and it is helping us be more social. It brings us closer. If you think otherwise, then I’m sorry but you are wrong. Either that, or you are using the technology wrong somehow.

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13 Responses to Technology Brings us Closer

  1. People are sometimes afraid of change :)

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

    @ BaconThatSteak:

    Yep, that is true. Make that “always” instead of “sometimes” :P

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  3. agn0sis CANADA Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    The sad thing is that society seems to always assimilate a particular technology once it is getting obsolete. Everyone spend their time crying about how difficult it is to use this or that device that by the time they finally get the grasp of it, something better is knocking at the door.

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

    @ agn0sis:

    Well, sometimes technology becomes obsolete before people assimilate it. For example, most people who still own VCR’s, still don’t know how to program them. Fortunately VCR’s have been replaced by cable company issued DVR/Cable Box combos which set their own time automatically, and a lot of modern DVD/BluRay players don’t actually have a programmable clock that could perpetually blink 12:00.

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  5. MrJones2015 GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    A very interesting thing i noticed is that though you communicate with someone very often through your mobile or on the internet, the next time you meet them you still have plenty of things to talk about. I always thought the internet and mobile phones allow you to exchange the same information, but it seems rather that you talk about additional things that are different from the stories and conversations you have when speaking face to face.

    sent from my TI-84

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  6. Mike Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    But thanks to the magic of the internet they met, hit it off and are not happily married.

    Fairly sure it should be *now* – with *not*, the meaning becomes kinda opposite.

    And I’d argue that people might blame technology for dissolving local communities, which is not the same as communication as you mean it, but can be synonymous to “communication” for older people and slow-to-adapt media.

    I.e. if in ye olde days you had everyone gathered on the benches in front of the place they live in, now it’s more rare and obsolete, with people keeping in touch not so much with local community, but with others worldwide, focusing on common interests rather than just proximity (which was more important back then, with bad communication tech).

    Another thing I see here is that sometimes tech can take the misdirected blame for the same thing, where it should rest on corporate economic environment.
    If I’ve learned my history right, in the past, businesses were much more localized (e.g. small family shops instead of worldwide mall networks) and handed down through generations, so sons learned their craft from fathers, etc.
    In current economy, this bond is usually non-existant, since sons learn in edu institutions and are free to pursue any craft they want, not just limited to ancestoral business.
    Also, corporate industries actively destroy local economies by predatory marketing (large malls set prohibitively low prices to destroy local competition and make community dependent on them), outright colonialism or just plain competition and better advertising (you won’t go to your neighbor to get a haircut if you know where it can be done cheaper and better).
    Basically, every middleman profits from indirection and miscommunication, so it’s only natural that the industries try hard to promote these things, though it’s interesting that internet (think etsy, ebay, gidsy, crowd* stuff) seem to give a shortcut here, not prolong middlemen chains.

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  7. Mike Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    To expand a bit more on my previous comment – I certainly seen examples of people not counting twitter, facebook, im’s and most online tools as “communication” (as they don’t use them themselves) and having much more literal “brings us closer” meaning than you have (probably because of too little exposure to technology), and within that definitions, they are right.
    So your argument becomes a classic case of miscommunication with these people. The irony? :)

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  8. Mike Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Another thing that came to mind on “I honestly don’t know where do the normal folk get their notions about technology” topic:

    * Geeks/nerds play with technology (instead of playing with other humans?).
    * Geeks/nerds are known to be bad at human interaction.
    * Hence, people who play with technology are bad at human interaction.
    * Hence, technology is the opposite of human interaction.

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  9. Gui13 FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Although I’m a techno-enthousiast just like you, I can’t totally agree with you on this point.

    I think one of the things you forget to take in account is the mass of information that you have to deal with on a daily basis in today’s world.
    Last month, I received 1000+ emails that were not spam in my mail, which means it clocks around 1 mail every hour, day and night. SMS stats indicate close to 3300 text messages per month for the average teenager today, which means ~5 messages/hour. I don’t even count Twitter and Facebook in there, you get my point: this is a level of communication that you couldn’t even imagine 20 years ago.

    But the fundamental thing about us, humans, is that we have to process this information. I remember reading a very interesting article on how the ability for the brain to focus on a particular task was directly linked to the level of disturbance it had to deal with.
    Actually, digging out for my answer here, I found several sources that go in the same direction: htel-minutes-doing.html

    and the transcript: 07. e-Clatter-of-Social-Media-Texting-and-Phones g-us-crazy-what-the-new-research-says.html

    (sorry for the non-clickcable links, but your comment engine consider it as spam otherwise..)

    Our brain is like that: it needs time to process information, to classify all the things our eyeballs, ears and hands send to it, so that it can use it later on.
    With today’s rythm of data input, the brain reaches its limits, and I guess it’s like an ethernet link: it starts to drop packets.

    How does it affect our communications? Well, when you start writing hundreds of short messages a day, you start losing track of what you sent to who.
    Hopefully, you have this wonderful feature that’s called “history” for your messages; so you know what was the discussion about. But this is a paliative to the real cause of your memory limits: the fact that you have so many inputs from so many sources.

    So in my opinion, too much communication leads to shallower communication; I like the metaphor Richtel uses: communication is like food: it’s good for you, but too much food will harm you. Consider, for instance, how thoughtful the average post on Facebook is lately.

    In the end, sure, internet is wonderful; but it also leads to what they call — quite rightfully IMHO — a digital overload.

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  10. Mitlik UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    I think some of this is the percieved signal-to-noise ratio. When people look back on communications they aren’t going to remember all the “impersonal daily bullshit,” it gets muted because it doesn’t cary much significants. But because a lot of these modes are asynchronous they hang around for a while, so when they see text messages, facebook status updates, etc. it seems to highlight what appears to be a lot of noise.

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  11. StDoodle UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    First, I did have mutual friends with my wife (rather, I already knew her brother, as we were part of the same “crowd” years back), but would never have met her without the internet.

    Second, I think you need to remember that society as a whole really needs to change to accommodate new forms of communication. I have a hard time thinking that the written word, printing press, and telephone didn’t have a massive impact on society. The problem is that we’re in a place right now where the young (mostly) are starting to re-structure their lives to make use of new forms of communication, but the older (generally) don’t. We actually have people from one society looking at people in another society and saying “they just aren’t right.” Well no, from your perspective, they’re not. You say the young whipersnapper who keeps texting is being rude to those around him; he thinks he’s staying connected with his friends. A large portion of his value set is different.

    Hell, I still have to deal with people who want everything faxed, because that’s “professional.” Email is just one of those hippy-commie-kid things.

    It probably doesn’t help that some of the basic structures, especially for youth, aren’t really able to handle newer communication. Most parents (that I’ve heard from anyway) seem to think texting in school is bad — bar none, not during school hours, it’s never appropriate. But these kids will not be living in a world where they’re expected to remain concentrated on one task for eight hours, shutting everyone else out. The sales guy where I work would lose tons of clients if he went an entire day without answering his phone just to “concentrate on one thing.” You already can’t get away with being “disconnected” in many parts of the business world — why do we expect this of students?

    Eventually, I think society will catch up, and most of those around will be familiar enough with the varied methods of communication that it becomes less of a “big deal.” But it’s going to take some time, especially with how fast things are moving.

    Just wait until some of us start having “telepathy” with our always-connected, integrated peripherals!

    tl;dr things change

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

    @ Mike:

    LOL, yes – thanks for catching the typo.

    Also, very good point about local community vs global. For me this is a bit of a false distinction though because a lot of the people in my extended online circle of friends used to be in my local community (we were neighbors, went to school together, etc..) but since them moved apart in the world and no longer live close enough to hang out every day.

    I was born in a big city, now I live in suburbia. I have never really experienced this local community thing though. I mean, we’ve been always on very friendly terms with our neighbors but both me and my family always picked out friends based on common interests rather than sheer proximity so go figure.

    @ Gui13:

    I fixed your links to be clickable. :)

    You make some excellent points. The communication via text and Facebook is shallower, but I think that is by design. I don’t think texting, emailing or facebooking can necessarily replace a face-to-face type communication. Actually, that’s wrong – it can help to approximate it as long as you put enough effort into said communication.

    But for the most part, yeah – I have few hundred FB friends, and I follow over 200 people on Twitter but I don’t communicate with all of them all the time. Hell, I don’t even watch my Twitter/FB feed 90% of the time – I let it scroll, and scan it when I’m bored.

    To me digital overload happens to people who can’t prioritize correctly. There are maybe 5-10 people in the world whose messages get my undivided and immediate attention regardless of the medium. Everything else can wait till I can get to it. :)

    @ Mitlik:

    Yes. It is a lot of noise. But that’s mostly because using the digital media we can generate noise faster and more efficiently than in real life. Half the shit we say during the day is noise too. :P

    @ StDoodle:

    Exactly. Thanks for pointing it out. Change is necessary. If we are not changing, we are stagnating. If we are not moving, we are dead in the water, and that’s never a good thing. Which is one of the reasons why I don’t get the “conservative” mindset that seems to imply that back in the day everything was awesome, and progress (social, technological, scientific – all of it) ruined shit for everyone and must be stopped. :P

    Oh, and don’t even get me started on the faxes. Recently I had to deal with some governmental agency that requested I fax over my paperwork. I was hesitant to fax my personal details but they insisted that this was the only way.

    Called them few hours later to see if they got it. The nice lady on the phone told me to chill the fuck out, that the fax machine is on a different floor, is shared by all the departments, and that the intern swings by there once or twice a day, sorts the faxes by department and distributes them. Splendid!

    So basically a piece of paper with my SSN, name, address and all kinds of other information was just sitting on the fax for hours on end, only to be picked up (and possibly copied or lost) by a bored unpaid intern and then dropped in a departamental mail bin, to be handled by 3-4 other people. Ugh!

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  13. Mitlik UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Luke Maciak wrote:

    Half the shit we say during the day is noise too.

    I get the impression you think I was disagreeing with you, but that’s my point exactly; when there is only human memory to keep that information it fades, due to the relative lack of importance. I don’t think we generate noise any faster, the mere act of storing it on some kind of history highlights how much noise there is, while one’s own memory of phone conversations (even during the phone era) may make the important ones stand out more. I, in a distinct lack of nostolgia, remember having several boring multiple hour length conversations with some highschool girlfriend or other while wishing I was outside messing around doing something more interesting.

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