Every generation seems to accuse the next of being less of something than their own. I hear my fellow Gen-X’ers say all the time their younger cohorts in the Millenials (those Gen-Y kids before they had a real name) are a social mess. Not surprisingly, the older Gen-X’ers say that about the second half of the generation and those latter boomers accused the Gen-X’ers of the same thing. But how is this happening? Well, as convenience becomes more of a concern it is not surprising that some of what convienence is cutting out is human interaction. The deterioration of human interaction undermines the ability for people to socialize and without those opportunities to there is not much opportunity to refine the skill.
Some of the lack of socialization comes from changes in communication. It used to be if you wanted to talk to someone you sought them out, and once you found them you conversed using speach. Eventually, in-person communication gave way to the telephone and although this speach driven platform eliminated physical cues, the inflection of voice and the way the conversation progressed with choice of words and phrases and flow and so on. Now, electronic communication makes up the bulk of life and in-as-such, much of what made humans social beings becomes hidden in the black and white. Here are the top three offenders:
1. The instant messenger – it gives the illusion of a conversation with it’s quick back-and-forth banter, but shorter phrases, smaller vocabularies, emotocons and multitasking deteriortate the subtlties of what makes a good conversation and how to effectively communicate complex ideas.
2. Email – although email started out as prose much like old fashioned letter writing, it has become a quick shot, short phrase devise thanks to mobile systems such as the BlackBerry where rapid fire reply alls are terrible simulations of round table discussions because of the delay between the convergence of ideas.
3. Text messaging – how much can you really say in 160 charactors? It has all the pitfalls of IMing and email but because it seems more immediate being a mobile standby, the quick updates and exchanges are often less conversational than their counterparts because they offer less opportunity for true linguistic experession.
Social groups used to be gatherings of people. These interpersonal interactions that allow for the sharing of personalities and ideas were once a part of different groups from church and synogog based ones to community societies to military brotherhoods and even hobby based ideas. As time went on, the ability to connect with people outside of the neighborhood expanded, however the beauty of sharing social bonds was exactly that, sharing them. With the advent of the internet sharing took on a different meaning. Here are the top three offenders:
1. The forum / message board – although these are becoming somewhat passe their influence is far reaching and the idea of posting and commenting that these forums created are the foundation to blogging and so much of the new comment driven web is. The connections always seemed a bit superficial but the groups seemed to follow some of the traditional norms.
2. The social network – the original idea was it was a place for friends to (re)connect, then it became a race to see who had the most friends diminishing the effectiveness of the offering, then it because this faceless marketing flattop where half the posts were graffitti about brands (often by ficticious entities to boot) not witty commentary between friends and now, the current version is a mish-mashed mess that’s a default for when all-else-fails as niche sites try to regain the disciple of the forums they offset. Needless to say, there’s little that’s social about most sites.
3. Blogs & Live Journals – the idea of taking your personal life and making it public, as if opening up one’s diary to the world seems a little counter-intuitive at first glace, but what these things allow is not the innermost thoughts and feelings being presented as much as the version of one’s self they want the world to see. It is not the dishonesty that makes these offerings so bad, it is the fact that the alter ego is accepted as fact, both by the maker and and the receiver, in this world. If social worlds take off, such as Second Life, they will replace the more static world of live journals as the bane of social reality.
Finally, although these technologies are meant for interpersonal communication, think about how many non-communication technologies are subjudating personal communication. It used to be, if you wanted to do anything, you had to communicate with another person, as automation occurs it eliminates so many simple, little human interactions that help people develop conversational techniques, ettiquite and build potentially relationships they otherwise would not have. Think about it like this, you don’t know your green grocer, your butcher, your meat monger, your mechanic, your pharmacist, your music store clerc, your liquor store owner or even know your favorite waitress. Why, because they don’t exist, they’ve been replaced in some way.
1. Automated checkout – Supposedly, it gets you through the megamart line faster (does it really, when half the people are truly unable to use it?). What you lose out of automated checkout is that idle chitchat in line with fellow customers and with the clerc, those wonderful insights to coupons and discounts you may have missed that no machine will ever notice, truly personal suggestions from having watched your purchases and noted your conversations and made a connection no algorhytm can ever equate, and as cliched as the thank you come again is, it usually ended a nice exchange about the simplicity of life that automation still can’t match. There are so many other versions of this though, automated tollbooths (ezpass), automated ticketing for trains, subways, busses and planes, automated gas station attendants, quick pay for everything from 7-11 to fast food resturants.
2. Mobile Devices – The iPod, the Blackberry, the Sidekick, the Kindle, etc. – what do these and so many other mobile devices have in common? They allow users to “hide” from the people around them by seemingly being pre-occupied. Slap on some headphones and you’re impervious from being asked directions, whip out a smartphone and you’re too important to look up from the screen, settle into some gaming and you’re too distracted to even notice other movements near you. Think about how many interactions are missed, or rather, avoided by the constant use of these devices.
3. Internet (pre)ordering – Somewhere between the facelessness of buying everything under the sun on Amazon or Ebay to the ability to pre-order and then pick-up based on an automated system for everything from Best Buy electronics to the local pharmacy to a pizza there’s nothing you can ask for in advance to cut off personal interaction that you just need to pick up in an even more electronic-friendly world that makes the idea of the fast food drive up window look like a walk in the park of the avoidance of interaction. As if eliminating the need to be a part of interaction during the payment process wasn’t eliminating things, imagine the detriment of all the rest of the process now being eliminated too.