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Thanksgiving Conversation In The Age Of The Internet

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I'm old fashioned. I grew up in an era when Thanksgiving dinner was a time not only for food but also for lively family conversations and catching up; but not today in the age of the Internet.

At a recent Thanksgiving gathering, I noticed the younger people were more engrossed in their computers, iPhones, and TV (a Roku device streaming Netflix) than in conversation.

I'll make a rough guess, probably based more on perception than reality, that of the six hours of hanging out before we sat down for dinner, the amount of time spent on a computer, mobile phone, or watching TV was twice the time spent in conversation.

Was this self-absorption, narcissism, social anxiety, or the age of the Internet? I suspect the major culprit was the Internet, especially with those under 35 in the assembled clan.

I suspect that the younger people have, as Ken Auletta says in his book of the same name, been Googled. If they are curious about things and people, they use Google to get the answer, which is not necessarily an evil thing in itself, or, presumably, Google wouldn't do it.

The problem is that the instant availability and accessibility of the world's information has reduced the compulsion or desire, it appears, for social interaction. The Internet has isolated people in their own private worlds, thus eliminating the need for social exchanges in person because Facebook does it much more efficiently and, more importantly, emotionlessly.

Young people tend to text, Tweet, or Facebook with each other instead of talking face to face or even over the phone (mobile, of course), I'm guessing because there is less expenditure of emotion, and fewer honest feeling exchanged. Like with a computer or iPhone, there's no emotion, no feeling involved, and young people are used to interacting without their emotions being engaged, it seems. They have never seen a computer or iPone cry or laugh or fall in love or get angry; these devices just give up all the information in the world, but no feelings.

Also, as I wrote in a previous blog, "We tend to believe that lots of information is good for a democratic society, and in theory it is. However, in practice there is now so much information (content) available that it is possible by means of selective searches and selective perception to create an echo chamber so that opposing sounds are never heard."

Not only are opposing sounds never heard, but also information that is not in our wheelhouse of immediate and intense interest is not searched for or noticed, thus increasing our narrowing polarization and isolation.

When I mentioned my observations about the Thanksgiving gathering to my good friend, Paul Talbot, he said, "If I had opened a computer, turned on the TV set, or looked at my cell phone during a family gathering my mom would have thrown me out of the house."

If we had been at Paul's mother's house yesterday, all of us (including me) would have been outside and hungry -- and deservedly so.

This incident has been a good reminder to me to shut down my Internet devices when I'm with other people and to interact -- to be curious and care about who other people are and how they feel. After all, I'm not an emotionless computer connected to the internet, or am I?