She looks unwillingly alone, but really she's reading embarrassing fanfic.
Image via College Candy
Lately I've read a few articles covering online socialization and how it affects offline interactions. One write up over at Lifehacker had the author asking the readers how often they use the internet to stage in-person gatherings. This piece over at i09 sites a TED talk about smart phones and constant connectivity making us lonelier.
I disagree on a personal level with a lot of the points in the TED talk, such as the claim that smart phones are "replacing the intimacy of face-to-face conversation with online connectedness." - i09 From a purely technical standpoint online connections do replace intimate face-to-face conversations, but out of pure necessity. I don't live face-to-face distance from everyone I know. I'm in a different state than the rest of my family. If I want to connect with them at all, it has to be online/over the phone. But that in no way has replaced my need for intimate, face-to-face connections.
Since moving to California I have experienced a strange kind of loneliness. I'm here to chase my dreams, cliche as that may sound, and it has taken me away from almost everyone and everything that I know. My computer and my phone keep me close to everyone that I moved away from, and when the internet goes down I feel something akin to panic. I'm suddenly isolated, completely alone and cut off from everyone in the entire world. This isn't a new loneliness though, it's one that has existed for all people that moved away from home prior to cellphones and internet.
I absolutely rely on my smart phone. It goes wherever I go and it does lend me comfort. This comfort resides in knowing that my friends and family are only a phone call or a text away. I regularly use Google chat to carry on conversations, but even that doesn't satisfy the need for in-person communication and connection. Am I alone in this? Does anyone out there actually feel satisfied with an instant message exchange?
Simultaneously a fantastic and horrible invention.
Original image via Arvind
However, there's another point in this TED talk that really irks me: Sherry Turkle claims that now people have "feelings in order to share them" as opposed to having feelings simply for the sake of feeling...? According to her, the increased connectivity and myriad of communication outlets online has changed our basic human reaction of experiencing feelings into a need to experience feelings just so we can share them. Perhaps there's a nugget of scientific truth buried somewhere in there, but here's the thing: for me, I have feelings just as much as I always have, and now I have more ways to reach out and share those experiences with other people.
Everyone wants to know that they're not alone. We all want to find someone and ask "have you felt this before?" I think it's great that we have more ways to do that.
We need one another; we need to share and talk and socialize. The author of the i09 article eloquently states that humans are a social being. "Our technology is making us poignantly aware of a loneliness that has been with us all along" is a quote from her that I just love. There's no new loneliness happening, we're only becoming more aware of it.
Technology has changed my life in so many ways, and I believe it's all for the better. It was a less frightening decision to move away from home knowing that I can A. call B. text C. email D. video chat E. instant message anyone that I miss. But I'm still lonely. My smart phone isn't making me lonely, I made myself lonely. Perhaps the real "issue" here is that when we're on our phones and we're connected everywhere we feel that much closer to people, so when we don't have that access we inversely feel that much lonelier. Isn't it similar with highs and lows? The higher the high, the lower the following low will be?
Turkle touches on many larger and important topics such as youths preferring texting over talking, teenagers being uncertain as to how they can have a real-time conversation, and the advent of robots being invented in order to listen to humans talk. Those are valid concerns for sure, but I maintain that my phone isn't the cause of my loneliness. She also says that because we're so used to getting so much from technology that we come to expect less from people. The opposite has happened for me: because of the constant connectivity I expect that my friends and family will be more available and more talkative.
"Are you coming over for Game of Thrones night or not?! I need
to know how much bean dip to buy!" Image via Brainfroze
How many of you out there feel frustrated and exasperated when someone won't reply to a text message or answer their phone? We know that people are never without their phones, so how can they be unavailable? I feel that Turkle has forgotten that part.
Does your technology make you feel lonely? Do you regularly prefer to be alone, or would you pick an evening with your friends over a night of text exchanges? Perhaps I'm just a crotchety old timer who can remember the days before internet and smart phones. Get off my lawn.