for all that we’ve gained

social-impact-of-technology-social-isolation-3-638“Duh-uh!” The facebook notification ding! goes off at my computer. I’m standing at the kitchen sink. Oh boy. I roll my eyes . . . Oh boy? My curiosity is piqued. Who’s contacting me now?

I’m checking facebook on my cell phone. I see I’ve got a new message. I click on the 💬 button but am greeted, no, not by my message, but by a black screen: “Please turn on notifications,” it says starkly at the top. Below it, as if to soften the blow, the screen explains, “The app works best when you and your friends can see new messages right away.” It then gives me step-by-step directions explaining how to turn on instant message notifications on my phone.

I’m feeling alone. The work day is slow: I don’t yet have a lot to do, being new. But, oh wait! According to my phone I have ten new messages in my email inbox . . .  Never mind that they’re all from credit card companies or people I don’t know. Maybe I’m not so alone after all.

“Did you look at Yahoo this morning?” “No. Why?” “Just go look at it. Tell me what you think.” “Think about what?” “Just look!” “Uhh . . . Okay, okay.”


When I was a kid, the only way to look up the news was to read a newspaper or watch the evening news. The only way to get in touch with a friend was to call them up (on a landline) or to pass notes in class or write a letter — and send it via snail mail. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was in high school, and I didn’t have a texting plan until long after that. And I distinctly remember the first time I ever heard of MySpace (at an evening service in college) and Facebook (a friend convinced me to sign up so we could stay in touch over the summer). I remember that the very idea of a social network site seemed strange to me. Why would I want to use something like that?

How times have changed.

But have they changed for the better?

These days, even when I try to decrease my online time, I’ve got applications telling me I’m better off not. “I’m here! I’m here!” the Internet calls. “You’re better off because I’m here!”

Am I really?

Yes, I can now buy groceries, go clothes shopping, read the news, look for jobs, “follow” my friends’ lives, look up words, track races, watch games, and so much more — all on my computer — thanks to the Internet. But . . . Did you read the conversation about Yahoo above? For all that we’ve gained, how much have we lost?

21 thoughts

  1. I will never claim to be perfect in this area, in fact in many ways I started this within my own family. I’ve had a work phone/blackberry/thingamajig for about a dozen years now. With very few exceptions, even while on vacation, I’ve had to be connected. Walking through Legoland and Disneyland, sitting on the beach playing in the sand, doing all sorts of things as my kids grew up — I was regularly distracted by the vibration on my hip. My younger son in particular didn’t like it and occasionally when I left the blackberry at the hotel room, he was the happiest little guy around. But it wasn’t that much of a distraction. It vibrated, I read the email, responded and got back to the family activity. I didn’t monopolize our family events with what was going on with my phone.

    These days though, there is no event that doesn’t end up revolving around what somebody has on their phone. My wife is permanently tethered to hers. Brings it to bed, to dinner, everywhere she goes it is right there. It chirps in the middle of the night because of FB notifications and all through the day with text messages and everything else. And I can’t stand it.

    I believe we should be with the people we are physically with. All too frequently these days, our time is focused instead on this thing “out there” that has nothing to do with what is right in front of us. It’s sad, quite sad.

    I could go on. I won’t.

    • I understand your conundrum, King. Before I got an iPhone, I thought, “Why on earth would I want to be able to check my email or facebook or ____ on my phone?” I was perfectly content with keeping these various parts of my life compartmentalized: Facebook and email were for my computer; text and calls were for my phone… But now? It’s true our smartphones are great tools and have become a part of our daily lives. But, yes. There is that fine line, which is all too easy to cross. For my part I’m making a concerted effort to put my phone away when I don’t need it. And no matter what facebook says, I’m not going to set up instant notifications for my messages.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Very good points Jess. Who reads Yahoo news anymore, they’re just as bad and gossipy as MSM (main stream media). I honestly learn and connect more through fellow bloggers. :)

    • I agree that Yahoo news (and most news websites) are gossipy and just plain bad. My boyfriend and I like to laugh at the editorial errors we find in a lot of their stories. But occasionally they do post links to stories on The Washington Post or New York Times, which are generally better written and trustworthy. I like to keep up with the news at least a *little*!

      I love reading other bloggers’ stuff, too. We all share the same human experience, and that is worth everything.

  3. So true, Jess. I remember when I was a kid and in high school, we used letters and big chunky phones to get in touch and exchange news. At that time, internet was dial-up and so, so slow. We even had diaries that we exchanged in class and wrote each other notes and messages, and put cute stickers in them :) Today, it really is all about keeping in touch via social media. You get personal with someone if you get their Facebook.. :/

    I don’t know if this happens at your work, but at the many places where I’ve worked, we communicate with email even if we are sitting within a few feet of each other. Are we becoming lazy? I don’t know. Maybe communicating this way we can do more things at once and multi-task more efficiently.

  4. Sometimes the internet and social media can make you feel more lonely. You might have ten thousand facebook friends but nobody to come over when you’re down and have a cosy night in, or nobody who you can just pop over to see when you felt like it. It’s good that we can communicate at the click of a button but you are right, we need to be mentally where we are physically! I myself am so guilty of doing this, and your post has made me resolute in my determination to LIVE the moments I am living!

    • We are *all* guilty of this, Lenora. A number of studies have been done showing the link between depression and social media use. In many ways, I think people — especially children — are better off without it. Kids have enough to learn about personal interaction with others without adding social media etiquette and Internet safety into the mix, too.

      I really do feel social media and the evolution of the Internet are a mixed blessing. Good for you for trying to live in the moment. I’m trying to do so more, too!

  5. I didn’t get an email account until my third year in college, and I didn’t get a cell phone until I was 34 (7 years ago). I loved reading the news with a newspaper – the whole ritual of it with coffee – though maybe it wasn’t so environmental friendly anyways. But now that I live in India, the internet really keeps me connected. Not always sure that is a good thing though…

    • I know what you mean, Sreejit! Although I never really got into reading a physical newspaper — the darn thing was just awkward to me to hold and peruse — I *did/do* like reading at least the stories on the front page! The Internet is a mixed blessing. I use it a lot to keep in touch with my friends from afar, including India and Taiwan and Hong Kong. But where is the balance? It’s easy to take even good things too far.

  6. You know Jimmy Buffett had something to say about that…..We all salute the Satellites…. :) Its today’s world..
    Everybody’s on the phone
    So connected and all alone
    From the pizza boy to the socialite
    We all salute the satellites
    Let me text you with your master plan
    You’re loud and clear but I don’t understand
    I’m a digital explorer in analog roam
    And everybody’s on the phone

    • Ahh, and it does! When friendships consist of “likes” on a social media page, or updates written for the world to see, we’re in trouble indeed. I think the whole world needs to get outside and leave digital media behind. There’s no need for a phone on a walk. Take a deep breath, listen to the birds, feel the breeze, chat with a friend. This is what the world needs.

  7. But have they changed for the better?

    LOL…very good question Jess.

    For all that we’ve gained, how much have we lost?

    Ooooo…an even BETTER question! ;)

    The very instant thing I notice — particularly with my children’s generation — is the general loss or significant decline of the eloquent art of conversation and fine articulation. Articulation of some of humanity’s greatest authors, novelists, columnists, etc. I can think of a number of prolific Victorian writers: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde, to name three. Fast and convenient is certainly not conducive to a highly refined, highly acute awareness of life’s tiniest pleasures expressed in words!

    From a socio-economic standpoint, the common citizen/consumer is gullible (very gullible?) to complex psychological marketing metrics taught from our nation’s most prestigious university business schools. Over time this begats increasing socio-economic GAPS between “classes” because the masses, the commoners, are sold on “The Better Life” which is only obtained by material manufactured surplus, e.g. electronics that do MORE things for the consumer than a human-being can do. Ahhhh…but HOW can these corporations get the (short!) attention-spans of millions of potential buyers?

    Voilà! Simple. Get in front of their face every second, minute or hour of every single day! *evil grin*

    A good post Jess. Thank you!

    • You bring up a lot of great points, Professor. Mankind’s loss of eloquence and articulation, not to mention mere exposure to these things, has certainly decreased over the last generation. These days it’s become so “cool” to use shorthand terms that many people forget the actually spelling of basic words. I can also see what you’re saying about the gaps between classes, although I must say I hadn’t really thought of it in this context before. I’m actually working on a news article about smoking right now that addresses the connection between smoking and class. Very interesting… Thanks as always for reading and commenting!

  8. Excellent post and many points ran true with me. Personally I feel it has to be very much controlled and kept at arms length. We have rules in our family to try and control it.

    There is also research saying it is affecting how we remember things – ie we are remembering how to look things up than the things themselves, and how we concentrate on tasks where we skim and multi-task very well between numerous screens but can’t do anything that requires more concentration and discipline.

    Having said that I don’t deny I have come across some really interesting people and creativity on social media but if there is control, doesn’t seep into everything and you switch notifications off you can get the best out of it.

    By the way – in the end many free things such as Facebook, are being used to gather info on you to sell ads at us. That’s not a paranoid Big Brother thing – just the how it is as all these free services have to be paid for somehow and we are not keen to pay upfront with subscription fees.

    Notifications exist because they want you to keep clicking and liking and sharing so they can work you out and put more relevant ads in front of you so you will buy more stuff and they have more money to develop services for you to use for free so that you can give-up more info to sell more ads…

    • You are spot on, Alex. It’s somewhat frightening to me just how pervasive ads and marketing are in our online lives. There’s no getting away from it, as you noted, as yes, all the things we click on lead to more ads. The only way to avoid it is to use the Internet only for email, I’d guess, but most of us use it for far more than that these days.

      I agree with your thoughts on controlling your media use and intake and trying to keep all of it at an arm’s length. That’s certainly what I try to do, all except for my blog, of course. ;)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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