It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. ~Albert Einstein
I love technology. The whizzing, the beeping, the flashing and the whirring. It’s such an exciting medium for me, that we have total freedom and opportunity ready for us to perform, explore, and live. But are we using it well? This is the questions we ask everyday. And today, I must ask a question of the nature of technology and our social life; is technology making us more social or more lonely?
Humans, by nature, are naturally social beings. We need other people in order to properly exist. If we didn’t have others, it’s likely that we would develop mental illness, and turn to insanity. We see the importance of this throughout the thousands of years that humans have existed. Without others to relate to, we begin to fall apart, and lose much of what makes us human.
However, the last 100 years have seen a rise in humans being “singularly social”, becoming gripped with new mediums and methods, which allow them to do far more. Elements such as the car, the telephone and the personal computer have created less necessary social time, thus creating sensations of loneliness. However, they were not the biggest instigators of this rise.
A recent piece from The Atlantic provided a deeper answer than we knew before. In it, author Stephen Marche asked “Does Facebook Make us Lonely?” He noted that:
We are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible. Over the past three decades, technology has delivered to us a world in which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment. In 2010, at a cost of $300 million, 800 miles of fiber-optic cable was laid between the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange to shave three milliseconds off trading times. Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation.
Technology has accelerated the growth of loneliness to a higher level over the last 25 years. People feel far more lonely than before.
Now, before we go forward, we do need to redefine loneliness. Loneliness is what happens when people do not gather as much (Though this is can be a causer of loneliness). it is that people have a strong psychological feeling of a lack of relationships. The Psychology Department of the University of Chicago defines it as;
loneliness is the distressing feeling that occurs when one’s social relationships are perceived as being less satisfying than what is desired.
So, a feeling of widespread psychological loneliness is spreading across America by way of technological addictions and social media separation. But why is this happening? What on earth would cause humans to choose this over the true reality of relationships? In order to answer this question, we need to get a much stronger sense of human relationships, and their nature.
Two conflicting natures: The Relations and The Cost of Relations
Humans are born with a number of philosophical and biological tendencies. When we’re happy, we smile. When we’re hungry, we eat. And when we need social companionship, we go to others. It’s only natural. However, there is a slight cost to this choice; we must go to another who might actually cause us pain instead of joy. There is a risk of pain involved in every relationship. It’s just part of the system. It’s why my pastor Brent Knox, when talking about building important relationships, noted that the closer a person is to someone, the more likely they are to hurt one another.
This risk of paint is repelling many citizens from their relationships. The have been hurt in the past, and do not want to risk the pain of it in the future. Thus, these people choose alternatives and substitutes to replace their modern-day relationships. Sherry Turkle is a Techno-Sociologist who has done some of the most thorough analysis of today’s modern technological obsessions, and how they grip us where we are. Her most notable observation is that humans currently rely more on technology and less on other human beings.
“…we are changed as technology offers us substitutes for connecting with each other face-to-face. We are offered robots and a whole world of machine-mediated relationships on networked devices. As we instant-message, e-mail, text, and Twitter, technology redraws the boundaries between intimacy and solitude. We talk of getting “rid” of our e-mails, as though these notes are so much excess baggage. Teenagers avoid making telephone calls, fearful that they “reveal too much.” They would rather text than talk. Adults, too, choose keyboards over the human voice. It is more efficient, they say.
Things that happen in “real time” take too much time. Tethered to technology, we are shaken when that world “unplugged” does not signify, does not satisfy. After an evening of avatar-to avatar talk in a networked game, we feel, at one moment, in possession of a full social life and, in the next, curiously isolated, in tenuous complicity with strangers. We build a following on Facebook or MySpace and wonder to what degree our followers are friends. We recreate ourselves as online personae and give ourselves new bodies, homes, jobs, and romances. Yet, suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone. As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves.
Sometimes people experience no sense of having communicated after hours of connection. And they report feelings of closeness when they are paying little attention. In all of this, there is a nagging question: Does virtual intimacy degrade our experience of the other kind and, indeed, of all encounters, of any kind?”
Does Technological relationships create something that feels like a replica of true social relations, when in fact it isn’t that at all? It seems so. Technology acts as an excellent substitutionary illusion for real human relationships. But one might say that the sensation that the illusion creates makes it beneficial. And they might be right; but one cannot change make an illusion into something real without it having consequences. When one does that, one will see right through the elements, and find that what they once believed in is actually a false idol that should not be trusted.
So, should we be turning to technology for our fulfillment and truth? Or should there be something else altogether? The simplest answer to this is to just return to what we need naturally; human interaction. We need human relationships, whether we recognize it or not. However, we stick our heads in holes and hide away from it. We justify our beliefs and choices with illogical reasons, and in doing so, we cause this sense of loneliness. It’s all our fault.