Thursday, September 4, 2008

Undistinguishable, but never unreachable

After writing my first post about all my social media accounts, I started wondering if it was a good thing how dependent I am on social media interaction.

These days everyone is connected at all times. I read somewhere (I wish I remember where) that when people were asked what they would not leave home without, more people said they would choose to take their cell phone over their wallet. My initial reaction was disbelief, but then I thought back to those times I was just meeting friends for a second down town, or if someone else was driving, or if I had to drop some things off at the post office. I never took my wallet. I always had my phone.

If you are a people watcher, like I am, you will notice that people can't stand to be alone anymore. If someone is waiting to meet a friend at a cafe or in front of a movie theatre, they are always texting or chatting on their phone. I am guilty of this as well. I get nervous with nothing to do and frantically start checking twitter or texting friends with updates about what I am doing. 

Humans are technically pack-animals. We started off living in groups and gradually, as technology became more prominent, we broke apart and began living independently. Technology is amazing in the way that it allows us to communicate quickly and stay informed. But I wonder how often my friends need to know that I saw humorous graffiti in a concert venue bathroom or that I have a desire for Mexican food for lunch. 

The answer is not black or white. There is no ability to say that relying on social media is bad or good. Sure, my tweets may be completely inane and irrelevant at times, but social media allows for the world to virtually exist in one place. When the tsunami hit in China, twitter was one of the first ways that people across the world heard it. Granted, the volume of tweets did shut down twitter for a bit, but the message was heard. Social media allows for instantaneous communication between people who would otherwise never come in contact with one another.

These statements are more than likely not news to you. Everyone understands the point to Facebook, Myspace and Twitter. We understand the novelty of Digg and Slashdot. Are there changes that you recognize in yourself that have manifested only after your dedication to social media?

A friend and I were chatting on IM the other day about how taking a business trip has changed since he was a kid. He reflected that when his father went on business trips his family had to call the main desk at the hotel to leave a message if they wanted to get in touch with him. Now, my friend has multiple ways of being contacted: e-mail, SMS text, IM, Twitter, Facebook updates. It is nearly impossible to shut off technology and literally be alone.

Having a cell battery die is commonly cause for a minor panic attack. I fear that the moment my battery dies, I will get into an alarmingly bad car accident and have no recollection of friends or family member's phone numbers.  The cause for lack of memory, isn't head-trauma however, it's my incapacitating dependency on my phone's address book. I wonder if that sort of dependency is, perhaps, a tad unhealthy.

When I was in school, we were encouraged to use mental math instead of a calculator [why use your mind when a machine is so much more accurate though? :)] because "relying on technology makes the mind lazy." I see the relevance of that statement. Thank goodness my parents haven't changed phone numbers in my lifetime. If there does happen to be some emergency, I already programmed those numbers into my mind's address book prior to ever having a cell phone. Those numbers are with me for life.

What's you're take on all of this? Would you say you are one of those people who has to text in the moment of waiting, or do you still look up and watch life going on around you? Would you prefer to have a conversation over IM instead of on the phone? (ahem, I do too) Do you feel life was sweeter prior to your dependency to social media?

I feel as if I have set this up as some social media addicts anonymous space. Perhaps I have a compulsion for social media, but I am not quite ready to profess that it is a "problem". 

1 comment:

Katie said...

Here here! I am on the fence regarding the potential of social networking sites, in all their various forms. On one hand, as a community organizer I can't ignore the potential for immeasurably easier, and therefore exponentially more frequent, engagement in social movements (think moveon). On the other hand, perhaps we have compromised quality of information/activity for frequency...

I would say, at the very least, the debate regarding "problem or not" lies at the group/societal level rather than individual. Read: keep on keeping with the joneses, Tawn!