Is technology making us lonelier people?

In a previous post, I suggested that “we are still getting to grips when as and when technology should be used for certain things and in some cases, it takes away the ‘serendipity’ that day-to-day life can bring.”

Three recent events made me think more about this statement. The first was a former client, who e-mailed to say ‘remember, Asad, there’s a whole offline world to live’. The second was a friend on Facebook asking ‘why does no-one ever call/text? and the final was going for 24 hours unplugged (see last post).

I am forever thinking about how we interact with technology. On the one hand, amazingly social experiences take place using technology (indeed today Facebook has valued these sharing experiences at $1bn in its Instagram purchase) but at the same time, when we are together in groups, we can become less social in hiding behind screens to tweet and e-mail rather than focus on the group.

I’m trying to be more present and avoiding catching a glimpse of the latest e-mail, indeed a recent Harvard Business Review blog argued that your smartphone might be making you less productive, however I’m also trying to work out just what ‘being social’ means. We currently stand at a precipice where we might either completely relinquish digital communications, however going 24 hours without made me realise this is simply impossible – the crowd mentality has set in and I think it’s very unlikely, or we might succumb to it completely and become victims to the Black Mirror, as per Charlie Brooker’s documentary series over Christmas.

I think we need to find a balance: at a party over the weekend, I took a photo and wanted to share it via Instagram. Not because I wanted to add a snazzy filter, but because a friend in the States wasn’t able fly back for the party so I wanted to share what was going on. No-one likes to be left out, right? However I was promptly derided for even opening the app. In this TED Talk highlighted by my friend on Facebook (see above), Sherry Turkle argues “we use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings even as we’re having them”. Using the Instagram example, Turkle is arguing that by connecting more and more, we are in fact being lonelier in that we aren’t able to isolate ourselves and benefit from the virtues that solitude bring.

Whilst solitude and reflection are important, the ability to connect and share brings much greater advantages in my opinion. Yes, speaking in person and discussions over coffee are invaluable, but sharing a photo or sending a text when you’re thinking of someone helps to bridge the gap in between the face-to-face time. Going back to the opening line of this post, I think we need to find a balance but at the same time, we can’t reject technology simply because it’s changing the status quo.


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