Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is technology killing our culture?

Elizabeth Hanson's chapter on The Globalization of Communication was an interesting summary of the impact different communication technologies have on globalization. What I found most interesting though was the conclusion of the chapter, "The Revolution Continues". As new technologies continue to emerge and we become immersed in webs of connectivity, I find myself asking the same question that researchers have attempted to answer in a book Hanson mentions, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture. While our culture keeps evolving, I can't help wondering how not only the internet, but cell phones (blackberry and the iphone) and ipods are fundamentally transforming our culture and if this transformation is a good or bad change.

I remember the good old days of dial up internet in middle school - coming home after a long day to talk on ICQ or MSN instant messenger with friends. The internet made life easier, we could talk online instead of talking on the phone where our parents could eavesdrop on our conversations. Similar with television rules in our household, growing up my siblings and I were limited to 1 hour of internet time a day. My parents believed that while technology was beneficial, we didn't need to spend our entire day watching tv, talking on the phone, or conversing on the internet. There were many more important things that could be done - playing outside, doing schoolwork, or helping with chores. Even during my high school years these rules remained in place in regards to the internet. Then came college and hello facebook and AIM. Now the internet was a full blown necessary part of my life - keeping in touch with friends from home and making new friends at college were essential and the internet provided a way to do that. While living in the sorority house, my roommates and other sisters would AIM each other from the same room or across the hall instead of getting up to go ask them a question or share a piece of gossip. I wonder what my parents would say if they knew of the laziness that the internet brought to college life, and life in general. The first thing to do in the morning was to check facebook, and it was also the last thing to do before retiring at night. We mastered the ability to gather in one room, watch a movie, write a paper, AIM people across the hall, and facebook at the same time. What multi-taskers we became. Did we really need to spend so much of our time on the internet? Was it really a necessary part of life? Is it?

I did not receive my first cell phone until first semester of freshmen year. Why? My parents didn't think it was necessary; that's what land lines were for. It took my 65 year old grandmother convincing them that I should have a cell phone in case of emergency since I was now living 5 hours away. Even then my parents balked - so I was put on my grandparents plan. And there I reminded until my junior year (2 years ago) when my mother finally bowed to peer pressure and got a cell phone plan. Now we have moved up in the world to having unlimited texting, and my mom is grasping the concept of T9word. While this has been beneficial to my siblings and my relationship because we can now text, I don't know how beneficial being attached to a cell phone 24/7 is. My father remains anti-cell phone (but interestingly has a facebook account) and when on vacation every year, refuses to be surrounded by any form of technology. From blackberry's to Iphone's, are cell phones killing our culture slowly too?

Now I present the case of the ipod. I did not buy my ipod until last summer while interning on Capitol Hill. Riding the metro would have been unbearable I figured unless I had music. Now, people have their ipods in everywhere - on the metro, bus, walking around campus. It's the walking around campus part that disturbs me the most. I remember as a freshman and sophomore in undergrad walking down campus and talking to everyone that passed by. I noticed towards the end of my senior year that those same people had their ipods in. Goodbye saying hello to anyone or holding a conversation, we walk like robots passed each other, not even acknowledging the presence of our peers.

I do not know if I think technology is killing our culture, or furthering it. Right now, I can see the extreme negative impacts of the effects. We change our facebook or twitter status while watching TV, texting, and listening to music. Why take time to talk to someone face to face when you can text them, talk to them online, or do both at the same time? Why get out of your chair to go down the hall to talk to a sorority sister when you can just AIM her or text her? Why build a relationship on human contact when you can have an entire relationship online? I see these technologies as necessary evils and I understand their importance, especially if you are one with family not in the same country. But to those of us who are not faced with that issue, what is our excuse? Why do we spend so much time updating our facebook status and talking online instead of making plans to talk in person? These technologies have furthered our creativity in more ways than I can fathom and have also added to multiple words to our dictionary. Now I am fearing the day where I go into an interview and answer a question with "idk" because my brain has morphed from an intelligent specimen into someone who only talks in text or facebook lingo and no longer knows how to hold a conversation in person. Is that where this growth is taking us? Killing our culture, slowly, and changing it into one we barely recognize and full of people who are texting their mothers, writing on their grandmother's facebook wall, updating their status on twitter, listening to their ipod, and walking down a campus mall, never making eye contact with anyone around...because everyone only exists in their globalized communication world.

1 comment:

  1. Leanne,
    I have had the same thoughts as you, with a slight adjustment for being a few years older. Returning to a college campus seven years after finishing my undergraduate studies, I'm shocked by how much technology has transformed the campus culture. Only the rare student had a cell phone when I was in college - we became used to listening to our shared answering machine. In addition to the critical face-to-face contact you mentioned that we're losing, I think the many modes of communication provide a convenient loss of accountability in the building of relationships. Don't want to meet up for the party? Just text your friend, and you don't even have to wait for a response to be off the hook. Beyond phones, I've noticed how most days there is a laptop on every desk in the dining areas. I enjoy and value my laptop as much as the next person, but the question of how we maintain meaningful relationships with each other not only with technology but in spite of technology is a good one.