We live in a world that is the most connected we’ve ever been. In less than seconds, you can see the faces of loved ones who live thousands of miles away. You can learn about crises minutes after events occur and even watch them in live time. You can be talking to you best friend every second of the day using only emojis or snapchats if you wanted to. Interpersonal communication through digital technology is quick, efficient, reliable, and always available. However, in those moments when a person has no service or his/her phone is dead, a sense of panic and a loss of self arises. I think this is somewhat because now we feel as if our presence online, either passively receiving information or actively posting, gives us a sense of being. Our ability to connect with people online instantly makes us feel as if we are apart of something. This need to constantly be connected is diminishing how we feel in real life. It is frightening to say that what is happening is that more we are connected online, the less we are connected in “real” life.
What does this mean for Millennials?
This generation has been apart of many digital breakthroughs. From Google to Apple, to everything else, this group has adopted the digital world to an extent that many if not most are addicted to it.Though there is the general consensus that technology has improved our lives in ways we cannot conceptualize, I think this view is often looked at too positively. Because this generation is so comfortable with digital technology and the normalization of connecting through technology, they (we) are not aware of how it is impacting our interpersonal relationships and ability to connect with people in real life. Our digital capabilities have become so much a part of our life that we cannot function without them. We are online/texting in class, in meeting, while with friends, at the dinner table– literally anywhere. I always thought it was funny when friends would meet up and eventually everyone ends up on their phone– what was the point of going back and forth for 2 hours in the group chat trying to figure out a time that works for everyone?
Our constant need to connect is not only affecting how we communicate, this need is hypothesized to actually change the way we think. In an eye-opening TED talk, Sherry Turkle explains how “we are letting technology take us places that we don’t want to go…Our devices are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are.” So, who are we? Well, for me at least, there is snapchat story Gabby who is always having a grand ole time and then there’s real life Gabby who likes to go to bed before 10 pm; there is Instagram Gabby who tries to post artsy pictures and then there is real life Gabby who is not very creative at all. What does this mean? We can be whatever we want to be on the internet because we have control of what goes on there. We can edit and think about how we want to frame a post. Communicating on the internet allows us to have a control that is not possible in real life. If a crush texts you “what’s up” you have time to think about your response. If a crush talks to you in real life you could end up saying “Grool” instead of great or cool.
Turkle highlights how we use digital technology in times of sadness. She studied how people are texting funerals to remove ourselves from grief– if I can throw myself into another world, I do not have to feel this pain. We reach for technology in times of vulnerability and seek companionship and distraction on the web. When we are lonely we can put our attention towards something on the internet so we never truly have to be alone. What this is doing is removing ourselves from the present. We are numbing our physical selves through diving into a gratifying virtual worth.
What does this mean for Generation Z?
Adolescents are in trouble, according to Sherry Turkle. Their ability to develop face-to-face communication skills is far inferior to the generations that grew up without the ever-present technology we have today. And even so, it has been seen in studies that even adults ability to have conversations in person has diminished. If children are learning to live, love, hurt, and so on through technology, the ability to feel compassion is never fully developed. In an interview an 18-year-old saif to Turkle “someday, but certainly not now, I want to learn to have a conversation.” When you think deeply about that it is truly alarming that this person could realize that their communication abilities are not developed but they are simply not willing to change their ways.
Furthermore, Turkle said, “having a conversation with another person teaches kids to, in effect, have a conversation with themselves — to think and reason and self-reflect.” I would assume that not only children’s ability to self-reflect is being challenged by technology. Just because part of the adult population grew up without such comprehensive technology, everyone has adapted to constant connection, and therefore a lack of time to just be doing nothing.
My challenge to you:
*As someone who loves social media, someone who will be entering into the digital technology industry in May, and someone who is writing this blog for a social media and digital technology class, what I am about to say may be considered sinful*
Try disconnecting more. Be more present in your day-to-day by doing a task with 100% focus. Andy Puddicombe urges people to take 10 minutes a day to simply do nothing. In disconnecting with the distractions of our busy lives, we may be able to reconnect with ourselves in a way we did not realize we needed to.
In all, I think that there is a time for technology and there is a time to connect with people in real life. These lines cannot be blurred or we are in big trouble. I am still a believer in all of the wonderful things the internet is capable of, but I think it is extremely important to take a more critical look at how it impacts our lives.