A portion of my day is spent online, browsing blogs and social networking sites, and using my iPhone and applications. Yet, I have never taken the time to think about the effects of constant technology use. What is this overload of technology doing to my social life and how is it affecting the way I interact with others? After reading articles, textbooks, and watching documentaries I began to see the changes occurring around me, but it was not until after I took a deeper look at my own patterns that I understood the transformations in my own life. I first noticed how I have changed socially. It became clear to me that technology has influenced human interaction and communication to become more virtual and depends less on human emotions.
It is completely acceptable for me to pull out my phone while I am at dinner, hanging out with a friend, or participating in any other social event. This did not used to be the case, as it was considered rude to pull out one’s phone while interacting with individuals. However, the constant buzz of technology surrounding our lives has made this once socially wrong activity, completely acceptable. In Frontline’s documentary, Digital Nation, MIT students are interviewed on the topic of technology and how they use it. One student said, “ You’re talking to your friend at the same time you’re talking to your other friend. You’re emailing another friend about what you’re gonna do tomorrow night… We are all so busy, that it’s okay if I am talking to Murph right now and his blackberry goes off and he has to start going on it. It’s like, well that’s okay because I’m gonna do that to him anyways. So, it’s a mutual understanding” (Digital Nation). This idea of using one’s phone while surrounded by others is normal. Technology has allowed many people to pull themselves from the real life and plug into the virtual realm. It has changed to where interaction becomes disrupted by a phone vibration or Facebook alert. Thoughts seem to be shorter and sporadic because they are constantly disrupted by the use of technology. Furthermore, I see the effects of technology in my own life. When my phone goes off I experience an instant rush of adrenaline; I will always check it and disconnect myself form the conversations around me. Occurrences like this in my life have multiplied as technology has grown; before the iPhone, I had a basic cell phone, so I could not spend a lot of time using it. Now that I have an advanced smartphone, I have access to the internet, social networking sites, and a plethora of applications. How will social gatherings further change when phones are more advanced and have additional uses?
Technology has allowed individuals to interact without face-to-face communication but still feel connected. This is most easily seen in online gaming through electronic games such as World of Warcraft where users can “meet up” online and play together to progress in the game. In Digital Nation, online gamers are interviewed at a convention. Gamer, Janice Gosnel, talks about bond she has with fellow gamers: “ People that don’t game don’t understand the relationships, connections, and how close you can get to someone that you’ve never seen” (Digital Nation). Janice is describing the feeling many of her peers share: gaming allows companionships to form even without direct oral communication. The advancement of online gaming lets players communicate through headpieces and chatting groups. Online gaming opens up a virtual world of communication and teamwork where gamers form groups or “guilds” to advance in the level, and in turn initiate a bond. Despite negative effects of technology on human interaction, technology also allows individuals to form serious bonds without direct contact.
Lastly, technology has altered the way in which one experiences other beings to where it is easier to communicate through the use of technology. In the informative book Culture Jam, author, Kalle Lasn, writes on how technology has emotionally dumbed down the human race and affected the brain in an ill way. In the chapter “Posthuman”, Lasn talks about how technology has the ability to pull one from the present and into a virtual world and how this occurrence negatively affects human interaction. He uses an example from Edmund Carpenter’s book, Oh, What a Blow that Phantom Gave Me!, to express this idea. He quotes Carpenter, “’ I knew a Californian who read his poetry aloud at parties until his friends learned to silence him… But when he played his recordings of these same poems, everybody listened.’ The Situationalist might say such tales, as they accumulate, mark the end of the authentic experience, and therefore the end of authentic self” (Lasn 45). It is apparent that Lasn is openly saying that technology draws in individual’s attention easier than face-to-face communication. I know aspects of this are true in my own life. I mostly communicate with friends through texting, yet before the iPhone, it could be difficult to write out what I was truly feeling. But, emojis somehow make the gap easier to overcome. By simply inserting “J”, my friend has a better idea of the tone I am using and the feeling I am trying to express. There are hundreds of emojis and I can clearly get my idea across. It is hard to imagine that a computer can successfully express one’s thought, but at this rate, that conclusion is not far away.
Technology is everywhere and is constantly evolving, becoming more and more advanced. While technology surrounds life, the effects on culture are not often explored. It is true that technology has many positive aspects, but what is it doing to the human way of life? Human interaction and communication is one of the first pieces of culture to change by the use of technology. With technology, face-to-face communication diminishes as virtual bonds grow, and personal information is shared in public while frontal communication becomes more difficult. In the chapter, “Posthuman” Lasn explores the idea that technology will break down all social order as humans hide away at home, glued to cyberspace. In years to come, it will become apparent if this transition is actually occurring, yet the changes in social interaction can be seen as giving the first glimpse into this new cyber world.