Is technology alienating us?
Wait, what? You're kidding, right?
I grew up in a time before the Internet and computers. I spent my middle-school years in Venango, Nebraska, a tiny farm town of 242 people. We had three TV channels, one of which was PBS.
I was nothing like any of the other kids around me. They were all multi-generational farmers who watched football on TV for entertainment. They talked about farming and football. For fun they went in the field behind the school and played football.
There was no technological means to reach outside the group you were geographically close to. That meant there was nobody like me anywhere I could access.
In 1977 I got my first computer. In 1978 I got a 300-baud telephone modem and discovered the world of computer bulletin board systems. (Think message boards that only one person at a time can access.) And wow, the idea that people all over the world could connect with each other and exchange ideas was game-changing.
Technology allows us to be more connected to each other, less alienated, more socially vibrant, and form interpersonal connections that were never possible before. Think about it: You can ask this question, and get answers from all over the world. You can communicate with people who are on different continents, easily and cheaply.
People forget that when you're talking in chatrooms or playing MMO video games or using forums or connecting on social media, you are connecting with other people. I know people who've met in video games and formed lasting friendships, even romantic relationships. I met someone on social media, we started dating, we wrote a book together, and we launched two businesses together.
Alienating? Seriously? Technology is just the opposite. It allows you to meet and interact with people who share your ideas. It allows you to connect with people thousands of miles away.
It enriches our lives while also allowing for people to not form deep emotional bonds. The Internet is the "one night stand" of the social networking world. It provides instantaneous and easy access to whatever group you feel you belong to, it can provide superficial confirmation that you are worth something and belong somewhere, it can widen your horizon and enables an unlimited exchange of ideas and business possibilities. The Internet is superb at bridging, but sub-par at bonding.
Human beings require strong and stable family-bonds to function at a healthy emotional level. If these requirements are not met, the individual can still function and even be wildly successful at whatever worldly venture they have committed their life to, but will struggle with simple, elementary human relations in regard to their own family and offspring.
For some people, the Internet provides a surrogate for these relationships and allows them to withdraw from their social responsibilities and create a utopian fantasy world consisting of only their hand picked peers for company. This "matrix" if you will provides social stimuli at a superficial level, which can keep an individual emotionally afloat as long as they are connected at all times. If connection for some reason were to be lost, the individual would lose what it perceives as a "safety net".
If the exodus from the real world is caused by a fear of it's demands and responsibilities and the individual does not have healthy, solid emotional roots developed in the individual's childhood in response to their parents upbringing, this process could fuel an underlying anxiety.
Many teenagers seem to balance on the tipping point of a healthy real life social life and a surrogate cyberlife.
On the other hand, emotionally healthy adults might be less inclined to seek confirmation and company in an artificially created social bubble and instead enjoy a healthy social life accompanied by a rich cyberlife.
For some people the Internet provides a way to sleep through your life without having to face the ever increasing demands of the modern world, but for most people it is a formidable tool for gathering knowledge in all fields, a continuous source of inspiration and a very handy platform for communication while still interacting with friends and family away from the monitor.
Is technology alienating us?
No, technology is bringing millions of people from divergent cultures and countries in touch with one another. The majority of these people would never have interacted with one another if it was not for technology.
The problem is the bad etiquette and blatant disregard for the alienating feelings caused in your fellow human beings when you rip out your mobile in the presence of others without considering if it is appropriate at that moment or not.
Many of us have neglected to consider other's feelings in this regard so consistently that the social conscience that is supposed to guide such scenarios is slipping away from us.
That leads to feelings of alienation by the people who need to talk to someone that really listens with undistracred attention.
Sadly, the people that feel most alienated and threatened by technology are those most in need of a caring, empathetic and supporting ear. They may actually be able to get help from the vast sea of Internet connected humanity out there. However, when you reach a certain level of depression or desperation, only a one-to-one chat with a hug or two thrown in will help.
Technology cannot yet replace that.
I believe that in a small way it is, but not the way you think. I believe in everything in an appropriate dose works out OK, and some people overdose on technology. There's a huge difference between connecting on social media and burying your face in your phone.
I see people everyday that never look up from their phones. People watching YouTube while driving. People who can't hold conversation because in-person interaction is foreign to them. These are the people that are overdoing it.
Like I said, everything in moderation. The Internet can be a wonderful place and open up great opportunities, but abusing it can be costly.