Almost a decade ago, sociologists, physiologists and technology experts were rushing into predicting the future of the Internet and online communication. And here we are, facing an unconscious need of taking a step back, seeing the bigger picture and checking whether their predictions were valid or not.
One aspect they came across quite often is being portrayed on every street corner, coffee shop, classroom, waiting room and so on: people are constantly checking their phones (wanting to be permanently connected). What is even more unsettling is that:
“it’s easy to dismiss this as some sort of bad trend in human culture, but the truth is LIFE is being lived THERE” (Ze Frank)
The five central capabilities of the Internet (communication, creation, connection, creativity, community) have been embraced globally and at an astonishing speed. However, technology sometimes seems to develop faster than human norms, behavior or values. One closer look at its evolution and our current social status and it no longer seems that they’ve actually went hand in hand over the last couple of years.
Social networking platforms have redefined the way we connect to each other, have extended our social reach spatially and temporally and most importantly they have enlarged and diversified our social circles. A very cool project by Ze Frank is a good example in this sense. For sure you know more. But are they really enabling strong social ties, since they also allow a controlled connection between people? We are the ones who actually choose who, when and how we want to interact to. This new system of selection makes it much easier for us to come in contact, but avoiding or favoring some people and contexts is compromising our ability to connect in spontaneous real life situations, therefore to engage into deep interpersonal relationships.
Creation & Creativity
No other movement has managed to bring so many people together and enabled them into the process of creativity and creation for themselves and for others than Crowdsourcing (get a insight on that here). It is an absolute fact that we have become a “man of action” instead of a “man of contemplation”, as Susan Cain underlines in her TED Talk about the power of introverts. Nothing seems to be wrong so far. However, the question arises: Isn’t social media blocking sometimes creativity just because it enhances collaboration so much that the solitude we need to reach deep thought is in danger? Aren’t we becoming less motivated to think on our own, when there are so many means out there on the World Wide Web that help us think, create and be creative?
The new online community is based on common interests. Would you rather connect with someone who shares your own interests or would you look for online communities where people don’t share your believes, values and principles? The real world seems to function differently though: the coincidental geographic proximity throws you in groups you cannot control and might dislike, but there’s a purpose in that too. It enhances capabilities like self identification and self reflection.
Unlike anything else, the Internet is an enormous source of information but also a very powerful tool for digital natives. It opens dialogue; it encourages conversation, exchange of ideas and feedback. So it acts emphatically like a “real friend”, who listens, gives advices and makes you feel connected. However, it also comes at the expense of real-time deep, meaningful human interaction. Does chatting, tweeting really convert into social skills?
Connected, but alone?
So, how often do people ask themselves these questions? Psychologist and sociologist, Sherry Turkle has realized it is time to do that, because in order to fully benefit of the tremendous advantages of technology we need to understand where it takes us socially and how can we handle it properly so that it won’t be a step further than our own principles, values and behaviors.
The world is not divided in “either/or” alternatives. Technology is not either good or bad, nor is life. But it’s up to us, both digital natives and digital immigrants to mark the boarders between the different impact of a Twitter or Facebook feed and a good friendly feeling you get when hanging out with your friends! So, it’s up to us to say: “I exist, therefore I share!”