The invention of the telephone meant we could talk to family and friends without leaving home. We could talk with our loved ones far away. Car phones made it possible to call for roadside assistance or take a call on the go. Internet allowed us to connect and virtually meet people we would never would have been able to otherwise. Chat rooms, message boards and forums allowed us to carry on conversations with people from anywhere in the world.
Now we have cell phones that text, cell phones that connect to the internet, social networking, internet cafes, wi-fi hot spots, wireless internet and the list goes on. The internet is everywhere - in homes, hotels, truck stops, the library, internet cafes, coffee shops and even the grocery store. Most people carry the internet around in their pocket and it goes everywhere with them so they never miss a message.
It's safe to say, we are connected to the world in ways our parents and grandparents never would have thought possible. Wherever we go, we have the ability to connect with anyone anywhere in the world at any time. We no longer need to be face-to-face with someone or dial a number and wait for them to pick up the phone to ask a question, make a statement or carry on a conversation. It's faster, easier and more convenient to shoot off a quick email or text message...even faster to update a Twitter or Facebook status and say the same thing to hundreds of people at once.
We have hundreds or thousands of online friends from different areas of the world. When we're bored or lonely, there's no shortage of online friends or chat rooms to occupy our time. We can sit in the waiting room or stand in the grocery line and text, chat, carry on a conversation, update a status, connect with the world - all without having any human interaction.
Children have their own cell phones, their own computers and other devices to connect with the world. In elementary school, they learn to access lessons and instruction on the computer. They work on the computer when they need extra help or practice, rather than ask the teacher or another student for help. Kids are encouraged to go online and find answers and information, rather than explore the topic through observation and meaningful conversation. They come home from school and use use social media and text messaging to communicate with their friends and family members.
What are we really teaching our kids? As adults, what example are we setting ourselves? The lessons learned may not be the lessons intended, but the more we connect to the virtual world, the more we disconnect from the real world. We all know the advantages of being connected in various ways. It's the disadvantages that are often overlooked or ignored. Maybe we're too connected to see how disconnected we become.
Texting, emails, chat rooms, message boards, forums and social media all have a much different style of communication. There is no real communication going on and the ability to carry on a real conversation with a real person is lost, often to the point where the machine is preferred to real human interaction. Are we promoting antisocial behavior?
Kids would rather text their friends for hours than go out and do something together. Adults often fall into the same trap - answering texts and emails when they should be interacting with their kids or could be out with their human friends. Unfortunately, the more comfortable people get communicating with machines, the less comfortable they are with real people.
The cycle doesn't end there. Cultural Analyst Sherry Turkle
says "We expect more from technology and less from each other...We're lonely, but we're afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we're designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” We tend to turn towards the virtual machine because it's easier, it tales less effort and gives the illusion of being social.
Unfortunately, our children are learning this also. They quickly learn that the computer or phone is more important than people. They learn to interact with the machines, but not with each other. They learn to text, chat and tweet but are incapable of verbally expressing themselves to another human being. They learn to be alone in a world full of people; alone with a machine full of virtual friends.
The real issue, however, isn't just what they learn. Maybe more important is what our kids don't learn and what we, as adults, forget. Without real human interaction and communication, emotions - compassion, empathy, love, friendship, companionship - are lost. The ability to effectively work out differences or share in joys is lost and that which does exist is sucked in by a machine that really doesn't care - a deceptive machine incapable of truly caring.
“The feeling that ‘no one is listening to me’ make us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us," says Turkle. Her ideas aren't as far off as some may think. The more time we spend with the machines and devices and gadgets, the more we feel alone because we're not engaging in real human interaction. In a world where it's unnatural and against human nature to be alone, we tend to spend a great deal of time isolating ourselves and disconnecting from the real world in order to maintain the perception of being connected.
“If we're not able to be alone, we're going to be more lonely. And if we don't teach our children to be alone, they're only going to know how to be lonely.” (Sherry Turkle, Cultural Analyst)
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