Friday, April 9, 2010

Vol #1, Col #7: Electronic HandShaking & the Technological Divide: More than Just Smoother Business Practise

The term “net” implies a device of capture and/or constriction that possesses enveloping properties. When used in reference to that little old invention known by html hypertext coders as the world wide web (www, for short), this is a rather apt analogy considering that few of us can live without it, and online addiction isn’t as rare as one may think. For that matter, I’m sure many of you can’t even begin to recall a time in your lives when the internet did NOT exist (though I still remember the days of typewriters, word processing and Ataris – shut up, I know I’m getting up there!) – when you weren’t able to conduct all of your research for school projects via the web, when you couldn’t maintain long distance friendships/relationships without racking up the phone bill, when you couldn’t check the status of your bank account(s) from the convenience of your living room sofa, when you couldn’t find out about the latest fashions and pop culture from around the globe, without having to ‘leave on a jet plane’ (as they say). The advent of the internet has literally changed lives – there are no two ways around it – but whether its life changing properties are for the better or worse is still largely up for debate.

Like any ground-breaking innovation, it too has some serious downfalls
: the commodification/de-valuation of music and consequent stealing of tracks (a phenomenon to which I personally relate and to which I’m strongly opposed) merely scratches the tip of the iceberg. Child porn rings, white supremacist message boards, organized crime solicitation, online instructions for bomb and drug manufacture, pro-anorexia websites, and services to aid in eliciting extramarital affairs are just some of the web’s more “fantastic” (note the sarcasm) offerings. But with that said, all of this stuff already existed in the REAL world. It wasn’t that the web corrupted humans. Rather, it merely has served as a MEDIUM through which our corruption has become concentrated.

While I would never discount that the “digital web revolution” has aided tremendously in terms of conducting business (for that matter, much of my own entrepreneurial efforts would not be feasible economically if it weren’t for email) and has led to a more international perspective in terms of world issues among the general populus, when it comes to the business of personal relations, I gotta tell you, I maintain a vastly different view.To me, in the age of globalization and technological advance where academics and suits alike postulate the “interconnectedness” of our globe, it would seem, in fact, that we’re more disconnected than ever before.As knowledge of each other, different cultures, and “the underground” has become increasingly more accessible (albeit still highly oriented around the perpetuation of stereotypes), our relationships have moved into progressively more superficial terrain.

Case and point: I was recently “dating” (if you can even call it that) a gentleman who refused to pick up the phone in order to have an actual conversation with me. He’d spend hours texting me and then several more hours apologizing for the miscommunication and arguments that resulted because of texting’s limited capacity to capture the emotion and intention behind one’s words (when you’re a sarcastic bastard like myself, this is particularly difficult to convey). Yet, he couldn’t seem to understand why perhaps actually speaking may be more suitable in this scenario. His excuse was that texting was more “convenient” for him, allowing him to engage in a multitude of other activities, while socializing. Like any woman with self-respect, I read this (both literally and figuratively) as essentially his desire to half-ass a so-called “relationship”. Suffice it to say, it was short-lived. I’m not here on anyone’s convenience and as “old-fashioned” (pardon the pun) as it may sound, I’m NOT actually capable of forming a deep emotional bond with someone merely by reading words on a screen. I don’t know – in-person engagement, hearing a person’s voice, and experiencing them in a three-dimensional capacity tends to work a little better (but only just a little, of course, again note the sarcasm) – but, maybe that’s just me?

It is of my humble opinion that our technological OVERstimulation has led to intellectual AND importantly, emotional UNDER-stimulation as we battle to attend to everything at once, but NOTHING in its entirety. Everything is now seen as “fleeting” or “transient”, and we can establish intense passionate love affairs as quickly as we can end them. In sum, we’ve somehow managed to convince ourselves that wishing one of our so-called “friends” ‘Happy Birthday’ via Facebook upon receiving notification that it is so and so’s special day makes up for the fact that the other 364 days a year this person’s existence remains unacknowledged in our lives.

Then there are some – more extreme tech supporters we’ll call em - who would rather be immersed to such a degree in a virtual made-up world that they’ve gone to the extent of creating fake profiles, fake bank accounts, and yes, you've got it, fake relationships via “interactive” (and I use that term loosely) programs such as SecondLife, to which membership does not come cheap. One needs to ask themselves what is wrong with society when people would rather formulate and maintain their identities and interactions through a computer screen, than actually endeavour to intermingle the good old-fashioned way?!

If you don’t want to take my word for it that the net has led to the above-described “social ill”, I hate to break it to ya, but the social scientific research is in my favour. As I recently learned in my Sociology of Deviance class, hardcore net fanatics and individuals who were raised in “wired” families tend to socialize less (and when they do, it is within smaller social circles), suffer from increased loneliness and depression and often lack a strong sense of personal identity (the net leads to a phenomenon known as “de-individuation”).

It is built within our genetic and evolutionary codes that humans are a social species – we are naturally compelled to flock together with like-others. In this way, the idea of the “technological divide” can not only be applied to differences in accessibility and use based on socioeconomic and demographic factors, but moreover said term can be used to designate how social relations have become significantly altered as a result of the net’s introduction.

Like any major change enacted upon society, characteristically there are those who are pro and those who maintain firm positions of staunch opposition. Call me a Luddite if you will, but I look back fondly on the days where conversing meant talking in-person not through MSN, cultural education involved the incorporation of ethnographic methods and phones had not yet transmutated into all-inclusive entertainment units equipped with their very own home recording and playback devices.

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