A common refrain we all hear nowadays is how technology is creating a generation incapable of human interaction. Your kids spend all their time with their noses stuck in a phone or laptop and you’re worried (or should be) that they aren’t building the skills to interact with real people in the real world. Books such as Sherry Turkle’s “Alone Together” – (which I’ve tried to read), paint this view all too grimly.
This is a misplaced fear at best, and downright wrong at worst. This post will try and explain why.
But first, let me state that I do find it odd when I meet with young people and neither they nor their parents find it necessary to make any attempt at conversation. They slink into a corner with their phones and the inter-generational equilibrium (read: uneasy truce) is reached. I’m not defending the lack of real life social engagement skills. But is technology really to blame for this? In my book, this is a debate about parenting, which is best kept for another forum.
But social media has a bad rep in many circles. I occasionally hear people say with a lot of vehemence (or pride?) “I don’t have time for cr*p like Facebook”. Others will say “I don’t get the point of Twitter”. Without disrespecting opinions, let’s get a few simple assertions out of the way.
Social media is first, a marketplace. It’s a market for opinions, emotions and connections. As with any market, there are buyers and sellers. Thus it is that on any platform, including the ones above, there are people who have the need to express, and those who have the desire to listen.
Second, many of us live in a post-national world today. Our families, friends, colleagues and professional relationships all comfortably span countries and continents. On a given day we interact with people all over the world. Isn’t it amazing that we can do this? Have we forgotten already how magical this is? And how far we’ve come from the days of having to pre-book International Trunk-Calls and start conversations with “What time is it there?”.
Most importantly, in the world today’s children will grow up in, it will be natural to have as many conversations with people across the world as with the persons next to us. No, this is not sad, or a decline in human communication. It’s the death of distance. I want to have a coffee with my colleague at work, and dinner with my friends who live in my city, but I also want to share the private joke with my college friend who happens to be working in Africa currently, and debate the pros and cons of the changes in the Indian political climate with my friends in India. I want to hear from my friends caught in the Polar Vortex in America, that they are safe and warm and to continue the debate I started with my mother about whether or not the US Dollar is a artificially held up by oil-negotiations. I want to do all of this in a single day. And I can. Isn’t that great? And if it isn’t already for you, this will be the new normal. Inability to manage in this world will be a huge challenge.
Remember, the are entirely new skills being learnt here. Your average teenager is adept at holding multiple parallel conversations; is part of an ongoing language evolution, and is learning about an entirely new way of running trust relationships without physical interaction. All of these are life-skills for tomorrow.
So while not decrying the value of human interaction as we know it, lets not forget that these technology enabled means of human communication are as important. Knowing one should not mean losing the other. Just as gaining a friend shouldn’t mean losing another.