When I was an undergrad, I took a class called Digital Media and Cyberculture, where we studied the ins and outs of internet communities. One of our units was titled Alone Together, or Together Alone? and focused on the two main sides of what has today become a debatable issue: does technology connect us, or force us farther apart?
This week in class we read an (admittedly outdated) article that seemed to argue in favor of the latter. Throughout the post, the author makes fairly negative and pessimistic guesses about the future of the internet. At the end, he states that the internet has created a lack of human contact that is bound to continue. This article was written over ten years ago, and I’m sure that the author, upon observing people today, has given himself a nice pat on the back for being ‘right.’
But is he right?
I was surprised how many people in class found points within the article they could agree with. The other two members of my group were willing to keep an open mind and concede to some of my points that posed an argument to the author’s claims, but for the most part, they cited examples from their everyday lives that proved his point. Alison, who works in a hospital, explained how many of the nurses are too busy typing charts on their iPads to engage with patients. Each of us could recall a time we saw a group of people at a social event staring down at their phone instead of being social.
At 21 years old, I’m probably one of the younger people in class, which might explain my aggressive disagreement to the opinion of the author. But I’ve always been of the opinion that the internet connects us more than it separates us. I grew up with the internet always there; much of my social life happened online. As soon as I would come home from middle school, I would be in an AIM chat room with my friends from school until I went to bed that night. As I grew up, I came to have Online Friends – friends I would never have met if it hadn’t been for the internet.
So when I see a group of people eating together at a restaurant, all texting instead of talking or individually Instagramming their food, I don’t blame technology. I will always think of the internet and technology for all the good it has done, rather than thinking of it as an out for people who want to avoid face-to-face communication. Because I do think that it is possible to have both; a person who loves technology and sings its praises like I do can also be outgoing and talkative in person. It is possible to be a talented communicator over more than one medium.
The asynchronous material from this week mentioned that the creation of the internet allowed for interactivity where it had never existed before. The internet opened up a feedback channel. This has become such an important, multifunctional tool. For example, I don’t know anyone who makes a big purchase without asking for someone else’s opinion first. Online product reviews allow us to consult a large, diverse group of people, rather than just blindly asking for opinions from people who may not even know the product. In this instance, everyone participating in writing and reading the product reviews becomes part of an online community. It may seem like a mundane point, but this is such an everyday way that the internet brings us together.
Interactivity and feedback are not the only doors the internet has opened. Information is accessible now where it may have never been before. Before the internet, encyclopedias were an expensive way to educate on general knowledge, now, Wikipedia is free to use. People who may have otherwise never met are able to chat every day. People around the world in different timezones can see and speak to each other when it’s midnight in one location and nine am in another. You can have just about anything in the world sent to you with free two day shipping if you want. People who feel alone in their everyday lives can come online, to a community of people who feel the same way, and have the same interests as them.
During our group discussion on what we think the internet is, I stated that I felt the internet has two main functions: social and educative. The great thing about the internet is that it has allowed for these functions to happen separately and together. Look at Communications@Syracuse, and this class, in particular. Though we’re primarily focused on education, there’s a social aspect to everything we do, including writing these blogs and tweeting them so our classmates can browse through the hashtag and read them.
Overall, I will always speak favorably about the internet and the connectivity it brings. I am very supportive of the idea of an online community or a “global village.” I truly believe that the future is headed towards an online-in person social hybrid environment. Those who fight it and argue that we are losing ourselves will simply have to learn to adapt and get with the times.