The USA Today recently released an article suggesting that 2010 was the Year We Stopped Talking to One Another. 93% of Americans now have a cell phone and over 1/3 of mobile phone users are connected to the Internet via their phone. A 2009 report released by Pew shows that 56% of Americans have accessed the Internet wirelessly, whether it be by laptop, cell phone, or other mobile device (like iPod touch, iPad). You can now connect with your social network (Facebook), tell anyone your current thought stream in 140 characters or less (Twitter), check in at your location (Four Square), and share your photos and videos (Flickr and YouTube) all without being confined by a desktop computer. You can do potentially do all of these things while having a face-to-face interpersonal interaction with another individual in the same room.
True face-to-face interpersonal communication seems to be diminishing as technology progresses, leading some to conclude that technology is replacing talking. In a sense, I suppose that’s true, but perhaps this social media/technology/web 2.0 revolution is really introducing a new type of talking. Instead of physically speaking, we are talking with our fingers.
All of these social networking sites, notably Facebook, allow us to connect with people we would have likely lost touch with before the advent of the Internet. We don’t even need an e-mail address to contact someone anymore; we can simply log onto Facebook, type their name, and send them a message. Simple.
Technology allows us to establish relationships without having to be in the same physical location as the other person. We can ‘like’ a political candidate or company on Facebook; we can ‘follow’ news organizations or celebrities on Twitter. When we ‘like’ something or join a group on Facebook, our friends can see that. We can share with our friends what we’re reading or who we’re following by retweeting news stories or celeb tweets. Technology is a virtual conversation starter. In a traditional setting, individuals may not necessarily talk about their top political candidates or news stories. Technology sparks conversation about these topics as individuals continue to share their interests and thoughts. Perhaps our conversation comes in the form of an 140-character @mention or via a wall post, but we are engaging in conversation and communication, and technology can take much of the credit for that.
There is, of course, another side of this issue that I can’t neglect. With the increase of portable, wireless technology, our society is at risk of ignoring individuals in front of us simply because we’re constantly connected online. The traditional technology users who are connected to their e-mail via their Blackberry or iPhone aren’t the only group ignoring those in front of them due to connective technology. These habits are increasingly being transferred to children — go into any grocery store and you’ll see children walking alongside a parent while playing their Nintendo DS or having their iPod buds in their ears. Children are being conditioned from an extremely young age to check out on traditional communication and get lost in the digital world.
However, we must put our increased reliance on technology in a greater perspective. Technology has been changing since the beginning of time and inevitably introducing societal changes along the way. The recent technology revolution is not the first time new mediums have replaced traditional face-to-face communication. The telephone has been common in our society for over a hundred years, and it too strips communication of face-to-face contact. However, new technology like Skype, which now has over 560 million users, allows face-to-face contact again without individuals even being in the same location. So, yes, this increased connectivity poses warranted risks; however, it also offers numerous benefits, allowing us to overcome the boundaries of physicality and time. Our society has endured technological changes for years, and we will continue to do so in the future.