A friend sent me this YouTube video the other day. There are some things I like about this video and some things that annoy me. The video is an overly simplistic look at how technology is effecting social behavior and relationships. After watching it I walked away with the impression that the creator feels that technology is ruining society. It’s funny to me how quickly we can loose sight of all the good that technology brings to our lives. Not that long ago you’d call your friend on their land line. If they weren’t home. You left a message and hoped they got back to you at some point. It was super easy to miss out on things especially last minute or spontaneous plans.
It all comes down to moderation. We have a lot of social rules about what is appropriate behavior during different situations. We have been eating at dinner tables for centuries and as a result there are a lot of rules around the social aspects of sharing a meal. Not shouting and waiting until everyone is served before you start eating are just a couple of examples. Many of these rules have come to be over time to allow everyone to have an enjoyable social experience while sharing a meal.
In this time of rapid innovation technology has evolved much faster than our social rules can catch up. Over time it will become more and more rude to spend so much time staring at your phone when you are with others. At first smart phones were a novelty and something to have a conversation about. However, I already see the act of pulling out a phone while eating dinner with others is considered more and more rude. There is even a game that some people play where the first person to pull out their phone at a meal pays for everyone else.
It is a good point that it can be very inappropriate to stare at a screen and ignore the people around you. To be honest, I find that quite rude myself. 99% of the time nothing is that urgent that it can’t wait until after a meal, or after a conversation. You need to be in the present with those around you.
What I don’t agree with is the fact that technology is isolating us. I think it gives us even more opportunity to connect with people. One of my best friends lives in Europe. Before social networks, Skype, and Internet communications it would have been nearly impossible to maintain a friendship with so much distance. The phone was too expensive and letter writing has too much of a delay. I really feel like we are just as much a part of each others lives as my friends who live down the street. I can see pictures they share on Facebook, and we can send messages instantly to each other for free. I can get in touch with him just as easy as a friend in the same city. I think we all have friends or family who live out of town or out of state that we can connect with better now than ever.
I would even go as far as to say a lower attention span, at least the way it seems to be defined in this video, can be a good thing. We are bombarded with so much information these days on TV, the radio, and the Internet. We have mountains of emails, and a constant stream of information from Facebook, Twitter, and a million other platforms that are competing for our attention. You need to be selective in what you spend your time on. Pay attention to the people and topics that are important to you and let the rest go. The ability to quickly scan through information to find what is important in the sea of information is vital. Be able to accept that you can’t get through every email, see every Facebook post, or listen to every podcast. You can’t possibly do it all. Not reading an article all the way through or watching an entire video because you find it isn’t what you were looking for is ok.
Just as too much junk food is bad for your health too much social media and online activity is bad for your social life. In person meaningful relationships are just as important as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. You can’t live on chocolate and candy. Social media is the candy of the online world. It is good in moderation.