The 21st century society is seemingly connected. Through the development of social media and smart phones, people appear to be a part of more communities than any previous generation. But this might be a façade erected by the numerous “friends” people have accumulated on Facebook or the millions of texts sent around the world. Just because there is more access to online interaction and communication among humans, does not necessarily mean that we as a race are more “connected”.
We might feel a sense of community when we join a message board with others who share a similar interest in sports or stamp collecting, but is that really a community? Can you truly say that you are a part of a community of PEOPLE when the only interaction is truly between yourself and a computer screen?
Sherry Turkle puts forward the idea that we are constantly surrounded by technology and forms of communication, and that we might be losing what it means to have “realness” in life. Community and connection are things that are at risk of being lost in this new age of constant “connection”. Even though we are now able to text, call, or message nearly anyone on earth, whenever we want, we are still susceptible to feeling lonely.
Social scientists have been complaining about the loss of community for “as long as social science has existed” (1). There is a “long term trend [that] suggests that Americans are less involved in political and social life, and that Americans seem to have fewer friends” (Putnam 2000). How is this possible when we have more access to both political information and social interaction than ever thought imaginable? People are trying to make a replacement for social interaction, when in reality; it needs to be in its organic form in order for it to truly be appreciated and beneficial.
Humans, like most animals, require social interaction in order to lead a balanced life. Social media is a cheap replica of something that must be done in real-time with real people. It’s much like artificial sweeteners or running on the treadmill. These alternative methods do a fairly good job at copying an experience, but they are not complete. Some people may prefer these alternative methods to the originals. Like playing a shooter video game, which allows the player to avoid the risk of the actions that are being performed in the game.
But unlike video games or fake sugar, social interaction must be orchestrated without the safety nets of screens or spell-check. There is a greater risk and in a sense, a greater stress in actual human interaction, but there is also a greater reward. If technology makes us alone together, then we should get off our computers and truly be alone, together.
(1) Rosenfeld, Michael J., “The Independence of Young Adults, in Historical Perspective”