I must be an old foagie at heart. Am I really going to protest the evils of Facebook, the problems with iPods and Crackberries and instant email and internet access? I guess I am. I agree (mostly) with people who warn that all these devices and technologies may be better at disconnecting people than bringing them together. But what's even more worrisome is that there's a whole generation out there that doesn't know any other way.
Communication technologies now seep into every tween, teen, and college student's daily life. And kids just can't imagine being without these things. I tried to explain to a good friend recently that the point of having a cell phone isn't to be accessible to anyone and everyone at all times. She freaked out and shouted: "YES IT IS!" Her manic expression was both comical and scary.
And it's not just us college students (or recent grads, alas) that are getting hooked. My younger sister complained to me the other day that one of her friends already has an email address, an iPod, and a cell phone. My sister wanted to know why she doesn't have any of these things. My sister and her friend are both nine years old.
I wouldn't be so worried if instances of technologically-inspired anomie weren't popping up everywhere and becoming more widely recognized: spontaneous, frantic text messaging; the answering of phones in the middle of face-to-face conversations; so-called Facebook friending of people one barely knows; validating romantic relationships on social networking sites to make them "official"; the incessant "hahaha" or "lol" in Instant Messenger conversations where neither conversant is actually laughing or even slightly amused.
None of these things is a big deal in itself. The problem is that everywhere, it seems, technology is acting as an intermediary in increasingly casual communication between people. And yes, I see this as a bad thing, especially for younger people who know no other way.
How could you test this out? You might ask college students what they could do with all the hours they spend on Facebook instead of studying. Most of them would smile awkwardly and shake their heads in embarrassment. But, mid-response, they'd get a text message. And then the track on their iPod, still plugged into one ear, would change to something that doesn't really please, so they'd have to attend to that too. Hang on a second, they'd say, my totally mediated life is calling. Hold that thought. Okay, now where were we?
Young people are on a media binge diet and I'm worried about it. I'm worried about a country where young people function through websites as intermediaries to declare their relationships valid, or where people use a text message to ask a friend, "r u alrite?" If the whole point of many of today's technologies is to connect people, it would really suck if we ended up disconnected. And when technologies insist in being our social intermediaries, that's a result we should expect.
I am far from the first in expressing worry about these things. But I do have a different perspective than many commentators. I'm twenty-two, among the oldest of a generation that have always had the internet (that is, among those who could afford it and the requisite equipment). We have this weird relationship with technology now that is both parasitic and symbiotic. We need it, and it needs us to consume and operate it, but we're also addicted to it.
Something has to be done before a whole generation of youngsters grows up with a crackberry habit and realizes one day that they've become disconnected from other people because they were so constantly plugged into a virtual reality. So, call me an old foagie, but I think Facebook and crackberries may be breeding a whole generation in need of some serious technology rehab.