Thursday, November 8, 2012

Connection or Technology

Connection or Technology
Tony E Hansen
10 Nov 2012

Technology has been helpful with increasing our communication capability and has undeniably altered the way people interact.  With the increased capability via the myriad of devices, we have seen a change in how people interact and in how people view patience. Further, people seem to have replaced compassion with a text. We forgo the personal interaction for the instant communication through our devices, and we forget how to self-reflect.

In Sherry Turkle’s TED talk “Connected, but alone”, she describes the profound nature of technology intersecting with human intimacy that is worth our attention.  She asserts that messages can be like getting a hug when you need it, but too many can be a problem. Turkle posits that “if we’re not able to be alone, we’re going to be more lonely” because we have used technology to replace the human intimacy and connection. This is a revelation about how people have turned toward using these devices to building connections rather than understanding parts of our inmost being. 

With chat rooms, messenger programs, social media, and our devices, technology has provided ample opportunity for communication. Technology can be exciting so much that we sleep with the devices and we take them on vacation with us. Yet, is that technology helping us to understand ourselves? 

Technology changes what we do as well as our perspectives, and if we do not take care, it can change who we are.  Etiquette of using these devices has changed what we consider as proper behavior. Consider the perspective of being able to get instant communication on 2-to-5 inch diagonal screen. Your focus is there in that semi-private conversation (regardless of where you are) rather than observing what is around you and learning from that. 

It was only a few years ago that this instant communication was not possible, but easily, one can find a group of friends that are together in a room but having their conversations with completely different people not even in the same city.  Whether at funerals, at the dinner table, during a movie, or during work meeting, messaging removes us from the location and the experience of what we are doing (whether grief or enjoyment). We should think about what is so important that we forgo the experience before us with the often grammatically incorrect bursts coming from our devices. 

In Star Wars, Master Yoda spoke to Luke Skywalker, “All his life has he looked away… to the future, the horizon. Never his mind on where he was” and later, “always with you what cannot be done.”  Luke was so focused with what was missing (regardless of relevance) that he would easily forget the graces and resources that were there with him. 

We are lost in our many bursts through our devices that we cannot see what is beautiful here. Where does self-reflection happen if you are never alone? Further, real-time observations and notations are not required because we can present things in the way we want to present them at the pace we can control.  Real-time conversations and human relationships lose their richness and rewards but instead become more like annoying attention demanders. 

Messaging is good for getting small bits like saying “thinking of you”, but they do not help us truly gain a context for the person (learning and understanding differences). Yet, people will easily prefer texting over talking. As well, if a message response is not fast enough, people may be offended via the assumption that the bits of texting is automatically more important than the other person enjoying or learning where they are at that moment (never mind possibly driving).  Thus, enjoyment and learning of the moment are forever lost in the inferred priority of perpetual bursts from unrelated elements. 

We can attempt to “hide” our real emotions by ignoring the current circumstance via instant gratis with people through our devices.  Contrastingly, some vividly show their pain and vulnerability in the online-self that you would think their world is infinitely a disaster. Do these not ultimately reflect what people expect from the technology or from others? What scares us that we immerse ourselves in our technology instead of intimacy? What illusions trap us in the technology that we avoid our basic humanity?

Perhaps, we think “no one is listening”. Perhaps, we must “spend time with machines that seem to care.” Maybe, something is happening in the world (drawing our attention) that we would rather be doing at that moment. These can be captivating questions about personal vulnerability and comfort. We could choose to “unplug” for a while and attempt to rediscover the humanity within ourselves. Whether one intentionally chooses to “unplug”, people will ridicule those for being “offline”, but again, why is that considered odd behavior? Consider why people go fishing or hunting. Some enjoy the game, but many will relate to the quietness of being somewhere without disturbance, of being able to self-reflect without noise. 

Ms. Turkle also advocates “reclaiming” spaces at home and work where conversation is primary. I can relate to this because my kitchen table is a place for dinner or coffee with conversation, often over a card game of gin-rummy. Here, my husband and I can relate with and learn about each other. Here, we can build upon each other without technology interfering. 

Consider your holiday rituals and festivities, remember why you are there, and enjoy the moment fully.  Escape the technology for the intimacy of family and friends (regardless of irritations or boredom). Those are moments that make us human and they teach us to use what we have rather than worry about what we do not have. Those are moments that teach us etiquette, compassion and mental reflection.  Those moments are the ones that teach us real understanding and love.