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Is Technology Anti-social?

2009 February 21
by Marwa

When I was reading some of the recent posts on the blog, one line from Rebecca’s post that got me thinking was about how technology can be really isolating. I think that is really true. I feel that nowadays, technology isn’t just isolating, it is promoting anti-social behavior in a way. I think of the iPod when I say this. Before the iPod became popular, I used to almost always have conversation with the person sitting next to me when I traveled long distances using public transportation. Now that times have changed and technology has improved, the person next to me listens to his/her music, I listen to mine, and there is often no exchange of words at all even when the journey is several hours long.

I used to not hate traveling by myself since I often met really interesting people and had great conversations with them. I met people from different age groups, genders, backgrounds etc. Then there came the time that most people owned iPods and I didn’t – I would stare out the window (if I had the window seat), entertain myself however I could, and curse technology for taking away all the interesting conversations I could have had. (Note: I get sick if I read on any kind of vehicle, so reading isn’t an option for me). When there was a real live new person sitting right there doing nothing, why was someone else’s recorded voice more entertaining? You can learn new things from new people, not as much from words you already know by heart. Well, my argument isn’t completely valid – music is nice to listen to, a random voice isn’t always. Traveling simply became boring, painful and really long – thanks technology.

If we look at it from a slightly different perspective though, it is a great tool to keep yourself away from people you don’t want to talk to. “Oh I did not hear you say hi at all – I had music blasting in my ears.” Occasionally, there is the creepy person sitting next to you with whom you have no intention of continuing a conversation – you can simply put on your headphones and the message is clear. Well, come to think of it, that isn’t exactly a comforting thought for me, considering the number of people sitting next to me who put on their headphones before even saying “hi”…

4 Responses
  1. Melinda C. permalink
    February 21, 2009

    I definitely see what you’re talking about, Marwa. If I go out shopping, walking, etc. on my own, I tend to listen to my ipod, sometimes to purposely avoid talking to other people, and I am certainly guilty of just listening to my music on planes even if I am sitting next to someone who attempts to start a conversation. I’ve never really thought too much of it, but I guess I’ve probably missed out on a lot of opportunities for making connections. At the same time, though, I also see my ipod as a form of protection. When I am walking somewhere on my own, it feels safer to make clear that there’s a good chance I won’t respond if someone tries to talk to me. There have been times when sketchy people have tried to get my attention or make some weird comment, but when I have my headphones on (and I generally never turn my music up too loud to hear what’s happening around me), I can at least make the choice of acknowledging them or not, or buy a little time if I need to figure some way out of a bad or uncomfortable situation. Something like that.

    Anyway, while I do agree that some forms of technology encourage isolation, there are certainly others that promote sociability. Most of what I do online involves some form of communication with other people who I most likely know offline (i.e. facebook) or posting somewhere (like this blog, or on my livejournal) where there is some type of written exchange taking place. I do think that online interactions are social, and that they have value. They can be just as real to a person as real life interactions, and often technology allows for connections to be made between people who otherwise might not know one another. I’ve met a lot of people through or because of the internet, and sometimes our interactions online have helped us build on our real-life relationships. All of this is just to say that I don’t think anyone can really answer definitively whether technology in general promotes isolation; some of it does, yes, but much of it does not. Either way, I do agree that technology has changed how we interact with one another and how we form and maintain relationships, but I don’t think those changes are definitely good or bad.

  2. Farhat permalink
    February 22, 2009

    I somewhat agree with Melinda on the fact that technology does promote sociability. There are a lot of people that one gets to know through online sources such as Facebook, Msn, Yahoo, etc. But then again, these forms of communications can sometimes give us a wrong idea of the person we are getting to know through such sources. I think a lot of people can get away with being more social and deceiving through instant messaging and cell phone conversations. Moreover, numerous sex offenders and child predators browse around sites such as Facebook and MySpace, which further increase my hostility to chatting around online. I do agree with Marwa’s reservations regarding the impact technology had on how we interact with and possibly distance ourselves from the people in our lives. However, the benefits of technology does outweigh its bad sides, especially in this fast paced world we live in today, where everyone loves toying with some sort of technology, whether it be in the form of an Ipod or the latest Sony Ericsson.

  3. Mista Jay permalink
    February 22, 2009

    Reading this made me think of my friend’s younger brother. He used to get in trouble a lot with his family for spending way too much time on the computer playing World of Warcraft. It was mainly because he began to isolate himself from his family by playing this game ever chance he got—I remember times he would come home without saying “hello” to anyone in the house, even if his mother or father was home, and instead he’d go straight up to his room and turn on the computer and start the game. And once he was on the computer it was hard to get him off, if anyone spoke to him his eyes rarely moved from the screen.

    Yet at the same time, in this game, he WAS socializing. He was talking to all of his other friends that were playing the game as well, and they’d all meet up on the game and go and do whatever they did (I’m not too familiar with the game, I just know the basics) and had a really good time.

    So I find it interesting how this particular technology works: it isolates and socializes simultaneously Or would you just consider this isolation?

  4. Marwa permalink
    February 23, 2009

    I definitely see what you all are saying. While I feel like there are some technologies that are making people anti-social, I have to agree there are lots of other technologies that are helping us socialize like online chats and phones. I myself am a lot more outgoing and social over the phone and online than face to face. It is funny – people with whom I interact mostly online or over the phone consider me a pretty social person, but those who see me in person more often think I am pretty quiet and reserved. Taking away those technologies from me wouldn’t have passed that sociability that I have online over in real life at all.

    So I guess I feel that technology helps us socialize using technological means, but doesn’t do that (if not have the opposite effect) in real life as much …

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