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MARCH 23, 2011 11:07AM

Is Technology Killing Intimacy?

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With all the social networking sites today, why is it that people seem to be less and less connected?  I don’t mean out in cyberspace.  I think in cyberspace there is only one degree of Kevin Bacon, if even that.  I mean in real life.  You remember real life, don’t you?

  Before the invention of the telephone, people had to actually go and see someone if they had something to tell them (or write them a letter and don’t get me started on this lost art form).  Some people even had “calling cards”.  Today’s version of that would be a screen name, and not limited to the name their mama gave them, it can be anything they want—so long as someone else hasn’t beat them to the punch.   Back in the day people spoke to one another in person.  That’s right, real live face time.  Crazy, huh?

  Then came the telephone.  At first there were party lines, so there was very little privacy.  But then, each home had their very own number and people could call someone up and talk with them any time they wanted.  Nobody had to commute in order to have a conversation.  One step closer to the person you want to talk to in convenience, but one step further away in terms of intimacy.  Now instead of seeing the person you were only hearing them.  A lot gets lost when one can’t read another’s body language.  And sometimes, one might say things to a disembodied voice that one wouldn’t have the nerve to say in person.  And the ability to just hang up when one doesn’t like the way the conversation is going, well that probably kept people from working through their arguments until they were truly over and done with.

  Cell phones made people reachable and seemingly more accessible, but it also made people more available for more telephone conversation so, less and less of a need for one on one real live interaction.  Then there were home computers.  E-mail was another way to communicate without even having to see the person, only this took it one step further—they also did not have to hear them!  Yes, it was back to the letter (again—lost art form), only in a shortened and informal format, and delivered practically instantaneously.  Which brings me to instant messaging, a shorter even more immediate version of the aforementioned e-mail.

  Then there was texting.  I am guilty of using this mode of communication more than almost any other.  It allows me to send a quick message to people without having to hear their reply.  They may text me back, but it’s not immediate, and I may or may not get back to them, too.  And of course, text messaging comes with it’s own language—shortened words made of letters and numbers and little emoticon faces to convey the emotion that one is feeling since their real life faces are gone from the equasion.

  More of this faceless communication happens constantly via Facebook and Twitter. Posting on Facebook and Twitter is like texting to the masses—not knowing who will be reading your message it takes on a certain tone of talking to one’s self out loud.  Thoughts that previously used to stay in people’s own mind are now floating around cyberspace for anyone (at least anyone on their friend list) to read and interpret however they like.  If talking to one’s self out loud were such a great thing, then how come prior to Facebook only crazy people did it?  I feel this way, and yet I am a Facebook junkie.  Seriously, Facebook is like crack to me.  As Twitter—I haven’t dared go there for fear I’ll never leave my house—plus, I’m rather long winded so I’m not sure even my messages about what I had for breakfast would be translatable in 140 characters or less.  Yes, Twitter has taking the brevity of the Facebook post and one-upped it by forcing users to express themselves in 140 character bites.

  Somehow without a specific person in mind when putting out messages on Facebook and Twitter the messages are broad and in my opinion most often lean toward the either the grandiose (posts that quote philosophers, poems, songs, or new age-y messages about peace, love, and the power of positive thoughts) or mundane (posts about what one had for breakfast, what one is thinking about doing this afternoon, what movie they just saw, and whether or not it’s raining).

  Knowing these little tidbits, juicy and not, may seem like a giant leap toward intimacy, but for me, it’s not.  These thoughts were not directed at me solely, so there is not a personal feeling to them, no matter how personal the information is (there have been friends of mine who post when they are having their mammograms for crying out loud!).  Also, things that I might have called a friend to discuss in the past are now reduced to a sentence or two and tossed out there for anyone to see.  Not exactly an intimate conversation.

  With each new method of technology it seems that we are farther away from having basic human interaction.  Teenagers used to hang out together—now they all video chat from their own homes.  At least they are seeing each other’s faces while listening, but not when they are the speaking.   Somehow, looking into a tiny camera lens and not into the eyes of the person to whom you are speaking gives one a feeling of insulation that has kids saying things that I think they might not say to each other if they were in the same room.

  I’m not sure all of this technology that is designed to increase and improve our communication is actually working to that end.   But, like it or not, technology isn’t going anywhere, and neither are the constant “advances” which require us to buy the next latest and greatest version of everything.  Some wise person once said (and I’m pretty sure they didn’t text it or tweet it), “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”   So, I guess I will follow that advice and post this article on my blog, send it out into cyberspace for strangers to read, alert my family by text and email, and then put a link to it on Facebook so that all of my cyber friends (and cyber acquaintances and cyber strangers) can read it.   I’m not sure what kind of reaction I’ll get, but since it won’t be delivered live or in person, I won’t take it personally.

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"If talking to one’s self out loud were such a great thing, then how come prior to Facebook only crazy people did it?" - Loved this! Perfect assessment of my view of twitter.
These technologies are helping us communicate with and become one with the Universal Mind.
eastinidaho - Ha! See, I knew I wasn't the only one. Still...I am contemplating making a Twitter account for my book. Which I still am not done with, nor have I found a lit agent. I guess it serves it's purpose.
Surazeus - I think it's "a" form of communication...but for me, it's not the most intimate or deepest.
theres a good interview in latest Alternet with sherry turkle on exactly this subj. its definitely what you call a "double edged sword"
vzn - I will have to check that out, thanks. I agree--double edged sword--that's a very good description.