Does Technology Make Us More Alone?
An Examination of Humankind’s Relationship with Modern Models of Communication & More in the Post-iPhone/Post-iTunes World
You’ve doubtlessly seen it for yourself when commuting to work—A sea of people crisscrossing each other with arms extended, staring blankly at their cell phones, nearly getting hit by cars as they blindly step off the curb.
They walk around in circles, phones held aloft, trying to get a connection. It’s something of a metaphor for what we are going to talk about here: Loneliness and disconnect.
As technology has evolved one would think we have evolved along with it, but the problem may be more complex than that.
If we take a closer look at the fabric of our modern lives and the ways in which technology is embedded in that fabric, we come to realize that, perhaps, our relationship with it has caused us to devolve rather than evolve.
Past generations have sought to have social interaction and to network with colleagues by going out to bars, restaurants and night clubs. The contemporary person largely avoids these physical spaces in favor of a life online.
Where our forebears took long walks on intimate dates and engaged in face-to-face conversation—where they could see their date’s immediate reaction—we DM our prospective mate’s profile and sit, perched and anxious, on the edge of our seat, wondering why it is taking them so long to respond to our messages.
Instead of hitting up a matinee, we “Netflix and chill.” Or so we say, but signs point to the chill part being B.S. In fact, studies say that millennials are having less sex than people have had in the last sixty years!
That’s some serious inertia in the area of ugly-bumping. The stats suggest that we’d rather send a Tweet or binge on Shondaland than shake out our old birthday suit.
As actress Charleze deGuzman explored in her somewhat satirical and somewhat sullen video “I Forgot My Phone,” we are living an insular life thanks to the technology we depend upon.
It is a lifestyle that is arguably unhealthy, an argument that we will have here as we explore just what technology and the new world’s status quo does for us and to us.
Anger, Crime & Other Ugliness in the Information Age
One thing is fairly inarguable about modern technology: The home computer has been as much of a boon as it has been a bane.
The introduction of the Worldwide Web to the general public has resulted in a truly innovative and beneficial experience for most (not all).
The Web has enabled writers, administrators and other business professionals to more efficiently and expediently research relevant subject matter and better educate themselves on any number of issues, both historical and current.
In 2014, a person posted to Quora, posing the question, “What has the Internet done for mankind?” They only got two responses, but they were nothing if not illuminating.
Patrick Donoghue, a lover of research, responded to the post, writing, “The day is fast coming when the sum total of human knowledge will be available at the fingertips of the common person.”
In direct response to the question posed, Donughue says, “In the past, I would have spent quite a bit of time in the university library. Today, I get better information in minutes versus hours.”
He goes on to say that crowdfunding sites, such as Kickstarter, have put humankind into a “trajectory of tremendous unrelenting technological change, geometric in progression and soon to go logarithmic.”
And he goes on to make an extremely valid point about the ephemeral nature of technology, a point that is more than a little perturbing when we consider the possible psychological ramifications of tech companies’ planned obsolescence.
Planned Obsolescence: When Companies Decide ‘What’s Cool’… and What Isn’t
Most consumers are no doubt familiar with the concept of planned obsolescence, particularly since it is something we must deal with on a constant basis.
How many times have you had to buy a new pair of sneakers because your old ones’ soles came apart and looked like they were poised to yammer at you?
And sneakers are the least of it; think about how many times you’ve had to reboot your iPad or close out all windows on your iPhone and power it off in an effort to get pages to load properly without freezing.
Why does this happen? Because of planned obsolescence, a business strategy that ensures that consumers will continue to purchase product from a company, if for no other reason than they have no other choice.
If you need your iPhone to work so that you can communicate with your loved ones and your colleagues at the office, what’re you gonna do? You’re going to buy another phone.
Every year Apple comes out with an upgraded model of their iPhone and consumers lumber off to Apple stores in droves. They assemble in long line ups that resemble nothing so much as the zombie masses clustered together in an episode of The Walking Dead.
One would think that these crowd situations would bring people closer together, that they would permit a lonely person the opportunity to connect with their fellow human beings and forge some new relationships. By and large, this just isn’t the case.
On the contrary, these massive technology-fueled social gatherings tend to tap into the basest anti-social instincts of the consumers in question.
When Tech Mania Turns Violent
Back in 2013, PC Mag reported on the violence that was sparked by the release of the latest iPhone.
They documented cases of domestic disturbance, theft and trespassing that were a direct and/or indirect result of demand for iPhone 5s and 5c. This included the arrest of three persons in California after fights were incited in front of the Pasadena Apple Store.
Sadly, these weren’t isolated incidents either; in 2011, a fight broke out in Beijing over the iPhone 4 which left multiple people injured.
This is nothing new, of course, as public incidents of mass violence and panic have become something of a national past time and a bit of an inevitable prelude to the holiday season (see: Black Friday).
Technology as a tonic for loneliness is also something that is up for debate. A case could be made for technology as something which has saved many a sexless, solitary person’s life.
Online pornography, web cam models and sexy anime apps have given the lonely a digital playground on which to delve deep into their secret desires and fantasies.
One could even argue that the streets are safer thanks to the availability of more extreme sub-genres of adult entertainment. After all, it is better for some frustrated, ego-compromised shut-in to watch a simulated rape video on Kink instead of going out and taking his hate-fueled sexual proclivities out on an actual pedestrian.
On the flip side, technology can be a conduit for crimes, many of them sexual in nature. Back in 2003, online child pornography made headlines when The Who guitarist Pete Townshend was arrested for possession of child porn.
His computer was seized and pictures of children in compromised positions were discovered on his PC. At the time, Townshend insisted that he was innocent and that the materials that were uncovered were part of a research project he was undertaking.
Regardless, two things were made clear: 1) Townshend wasn’t going to be welcome by any schoolyards, and 2) The Internet was a dangerous place where deviant individuals could readily obtain illegal pictures and videos.
Technology has also yielded other forms of child abuse including young entertainers who are just looking to share their talents online. The rise of YouTube has given countless musicians, gamers and aspiring actor/comedians a public platform where they can share themselves for free while building their brand.
But with visitors and subscribers comes haters and pervs. Video channels have even been taken do