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Technology isolates rather than liberates us

By Staff | Apr 16, 2010

As I sat and watched my nine-year-old nephew playing his Nintendo DS game in the corner of the room this weekend, I got to thinking. The room was full of people, talking and laughing and interacting and he was sitting quietly oblivious to it all. I’m sure he can’t imagine life without an abundance of technology, but I’m so thankful that we didn’t have all that as kids.

A whole generation is growing up with an entirely different set of social skills created by email, texting, cell phones and the internet. Back when I was a kid, when we wanted to deliver a message, we did it in person. We didn’t text it from a distance.

Back then when we went on a car ride with our family, we didn’t plug in our ipod and listen to music or watch a DVD. We had conversations.

Back then, when we wanted to find out someone’s “status” we called or actually talked to them in person. We didn’t log on to Facebook and check it out from behind a computer screen. You might think you have a lot of so-called friends because that’s what Facebook technically calls them, but research has shown that people who use social networks like Facebook are much less likely to know their neighbor who lives next door or down the street. It’s about broadening your social circle in real life, not your computer “friends.”

I know I’ve heard that argument that technology keeps us connected. I argue that we are all just alone together when we hide behind Facebook or text messages.

We are together in coffee shops, but we’re alone on our laptops. We’re together in our cars, but alone on our cell phones. We are together in the family room, but alone on our ipods.

Everywhere you look people are occupying themselves in some way as to avoid the world around them. Not to mention the damage it’s done to grammar and the English language. Technology has dumbed down communication to acronyms like “LOL” or “BFF” or other annoying phrases people are too lazy to call or say over the phone or in person.

People may think they are connected now more than ever with the technology available, but I think it’s just the opposite. They are actually more isolated.

It may seem paradoxical that despite the fact that information and means for communication have mushroomed thanks to technological strides, people are actually less connected on a personal level.

What we have is a nation of people who are under the impression they are more connected via the internet or cell phones, when in fact we’ve actually perfected more convenient ways of ignoring each other. We seem to be content being alone in our own little worlds, which are not real, by the way.

Growing up in a generation that wasn’t glued to a Nintendo game screen 24/7 afforded me the ability get to know all sorts of people and learn how to communicate and interact with all kinds of people in the real world. It’s time to come out from behind our PC’s, ipods and cell phones and interact with people face to face.

Even if you are a Facebook junkie, I guarantee that real-life face-to-face communication can be achieved again and you will be glad you did.

It’s the kind of physical, dirt-under-your-nails satisfaction that you can only get by turning off the computer, going outdoors and re-connecting with the real world. That feeling, that “I built that fence” or “I grew that tomato” or “I helped that guy” or “I made this dress” feeling, can’t be matched by anything the internet has to offer.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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