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We’re still social, technology just changes how we socialize

August 11, 2014

6562366465_fcbcbdac44_zScreen Shot 2014-08-11 at 5.34.43 PM

Are the above situations any different? Are people socializing any less?

As Techdirt’s Tim Cushing (@TimCushing) penned last Friday, technology doesn’t make us less social, it only changes the way we socialize.

A newspaper, like a smartphone, can be more entertaining in some situations.

Yes, the printed word, applied to paper, is more interesting than conversing with others or simply staring vacantly into space. For most people in a forcibly “social” situation — like waiting for mass transportation — having a smartphone or newspaper to “disappear” into rather than trying to engage in conversation with dozens of people they don’t know or care about is a plus, rather than an indicator of societal collapse. Put these people into situations with friends and acquaintances and its very likely the distractions will recede into the background. And even if they don’t, there’s likely a lot more “sharing” going on than can be perceived with the predisposed eye.

With our ability to connect with others and receive tremendous value from this thing in the palm of our hands, we’re made to feel guilty or anti-social by some.

…[T]he narrative is pushed that smartphones and tablets are turning us into anti-social screen gazers, more interested in the world contained in the cloud than the world that surrounds us. But is this really a new narrative? Is it only now that we’ve become so entranced by streams of information that we’ve begun shutting out the sensory underload of everyday life?

Sure we communicate differently today. We had no smartphones, tablets, texting, or mobile apps fifteen years ago.

No one in their right mind then could have imagined me pushing a button on a telephone in my palm while standing on a curb in West Hollywood and someone in their family car picking me up in two minutes to take me to the airport. For a fraction of the cost of taxi, no less.

Or having a having a conversation with my wife and our five kids in three different cities via something called text messaging while I am walking down the streets of New York City.

How about my sharing my thoughts on the intersection of blogging and social networks on a tablet and getting responses within five minutes from thought leaders and blogging pioneers from coast to coast.

Technology has changed the way we communicate, but it hasn’t eliminated communication. The supposed dearth of face-to-face interaction can be traced all the way back to dated pursuits like reading newspapers or playing chess. Nothing really changes. We may find more people blundering down the street staring at a phone screen rather than the sidewalk in front of them, but extrapolating carelessness and (yes) rudeness into some sort of societal collapse isn’t an original idea, or even a recent one. Anything beneficial is ignored to portray an army of dead-eyed techno-captives ruining the world, one Tweet/Instagram/Facebook update at a time. It’s not any truer now than it was back when people stood shoulder-to-shoulder staring intently at the newspaper in front of them.

Maybe I am nuts, but I see tremendous value in the way we socialize and communicate today.

Sure you’ll see me walking down the sidewalk looking at my iPhone or walking off the ferry finishing a blog post on my iPad. You’ll even see Mrs. RLHB and I texting someone or looking something up while out for dinner.

But technology has enabled me to connect with more people, learn more from them, and get so many valuable services than ever before. I’ll take all the good with any supposed bad.

Images courtesy of Flickr by Leon Fishman and Jojo Bombardo