As humans we are always evolving. The idea of tools and technology have evolved with the human mind as they become more complex. Technological advances have come far in the past few centuries and so has society. Some argue that it is technology that evolves with society but in reality, it is technology that has changed our views of society.
Being social has always been in our nature, even at the dawn of time before the evolution of the homo sapiens; primates lived in social groups and engaged in social activities with each other. Technology is the combination of tools and knowledge and the use of this technology creates social media, which allows people to be social and exchange information by using some medium when an in person meeting is not possible. Social media centuries ago is no different from modern day social media. The technology of communication has evolved with our need to socialize; how to get news to a party quicker and more efficiently, how to make it easier to store messages for future reference, maybe even how to record current events to share with friends later. From that, the hieroglyphics from the Egyptians had evolved into a stone tablet, which evolved into the parchment paper that the Greeks and Romans used, which evolved into newspapers, which lead to the use of text messages and the electronic iPad tablet.
Modern day social media is a bit different from the original definition. The younger generations define it as websites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that allow an individual to keep in touch with distanced people whom do not live within a given visiting radius. This type of social media was initially created to allow family members and distanced users to keep in touch with each other. Evidently it has evolved into keeping in touch with the person you live with or someone in the same room. Danah Boyd, in her book It’s Complicated, defines the young generation of social media users as, “[…] zombified social media addicts who are unable to tear themselves away from the streams of content from Facebook Twitter, and Instagram (Boyd 78).” This type of behavior was not always the case. In the past few years, the amount of technology usage by children and teens have increased an exponential amount. Nine years ago, not every child had access to a cell phone or a portable music player and headphones. Busses were full of banter and students talking about what they did in school. Now a days, it is uncommon for anyone with access to a computer to not have a phone or pair of headphones. Busses are now filled with a floating silence whilst students stare somberly out the window while listening to music or while engrossed in the words of a little glowing white screen. College students constantly have headphones plugged in, they are always looking down and scrolling at phones when not in class, on their way to class, even in class. Though it would seem that teens are facing an extreme addiction to social media, Boyd has a different theory: “Teens turn to, and are obsessed with, whichever environment allows them to connect to friends. Most teens aren’t addicted to social media; if anything, they’re addicted to each other (Boyd 80).”
As social creatures, self-consciousness is in our nature. The desire to be accepted by others and the desire to meet social standards is something that quietly eats at the minds of adolescents – we identify ourselves most with the qualities that are most accepted by society. Modern society dictates what said qualities make someone attractive, what qualities make someone an athlete, society dictates how we define ourselves. Stereotypes are a fighting matter in not only high schools, but also college and elementary and middle schools as well. In high school a few stereotypes are nerds: the smart students who study all the time – give or take a pair of glasses, populars: the snobby group who everyone thinks are attractive with hundreds of friends, jocks: the student athletes that wear sweats and athletic shorts to school every day, and emo kids: who wear black every day and have ten piercings. In college most stereotypes are based off of either greek life or by major and in primary schools there becomes an identity crisis of who you will become in high school. The hierarchy of stereotypes in schools give certain groups of people more “power” over another group which results in social problems like gossip drama and bullying: where everyone knows that Suzy cheated on Josh with Chad who is Josh’s best friend or a student will pick out a person or a group of people and turn half the school against them, respectively. The use of cell phones and texting allows this type of gossip to be spread infinitely faster than it would had they used the old method of passing post-it notes during class. Bullying is one of the big social issues that leads people to suicidal thoughts because they feel insignificant, it is problems like bullying that lead people to turn to online communities in their one last attempt of being accepted.
There are millions of people on the internet, out of those millions it cannot be hard to find someone who understands you. On the internet “there are places where one constructs an avatar—from games to virtual communities—where people go to find themselves, or to lose themselves, or to explore aspects of themselves (Turkle 209).” These communities are full of people who are willing to reach out with open arms and accept people as they are. The internet gives individuals a chance to start over from their past and, because they feel insignificant, they can find their purpose in life, discover hobbies that they enjoy doing, and make life long friends. One of the teens that Boyd interviewed described his experience, “I was going online to escape the so-called real world. I felt ostracized and misunderstood at school, but online I could portray myself as the person that I wanted to be. I took on fictitious identities in an effort to figure out who I was (Boyd 37).” After being bullied at school, sometimes going home and talking to parents and loved ones can be a comforting place to balance out the school day but unfortunately not all families are a safe haven.
Younger generations, due to advanced electronic entertainment, spend less time with friends and even less time with family. Cell phones have taken their own places at the dinner table and dinner has become a time of eating food instead of a time of communion. Kids scarf down their food as quick as possible before returning to their online world. Adults and parents commonly complain that their kids spend too much time on computers but Boyd theorizes that it is these parents that are at fault for their kids’ addiction. In a culture where “stranger danger” is a common phrase and over-dramatized crime television shows influence people’s actions, parents have become widely overprotective of their children. In my childhood, I would be gone for hours playing with neighbors – we tried building a fort in an overgrown bush, we would bike up and down the street and explore in the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac, run around the park up by the main road, or meet at the gazebo to trade Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. One of the girls Boyd had interviewed said she lived in a relatively nice area and her mom would not let her walk her dog or go outside past their front yard in fear that someone would kidnap her. Parents have the idea that every single stranger has the intention of kidnapping their children based off of television shows like CSI and Law and Order. They keep their children off the streets and away from bad influences by filling their kids’ schedules filled with music lessons, sports practices, and other extracurricular activities. Busy schedules leave no time to hangout and chat with friends and the only way to stay in touch and updated on the lives of friends is to use the internet. On the other hand, students come home to thousands of problems and broken families. Life can be a living hell for some people. When using social media, users have the power to log off from who they are as a human being and log onto someone else online.
In the real world, your physical body and personality defines you, in the digital world, your pixel avatar and your typed interests defines you. Whether it is a dating website, an online community, or even a video game guild – people judge based on a picture. Online people are able to post pictures of themselves, list their qualities, and interests – things that show only the good side of their personality. Getting to know someone by “Facebook creeping” on them has become very common among teens and young adults. Friendships and dating have become a complete online experience. The increased use of online profiles has altered society’s view of relationships from an in person process of getting to know someone to a materialistic view of getting to know someone through just their pictures and what they post. The internet has also degraded the value of relationships because evidently internet based relationships are “no strings attached.” Modern day relationships can be ended easily over text message or online and friendships can be ended in seconds by clicking the “Unfriend” button on Facebook – the concept of personal interaction has been completely removed.
Human interaction is an important skill considering our lives are based off of interacting and socializing with others. However, because cell phones have become a primary communication medium, people have begun preferring text messaging and emails over phone calls. Sherry Turkle interviewed a few teens in her book, Alone Together, and asked them about their preference and they all agreed that, “you wouldn’t want to call because then you would have to get into a conversation […] You ask a question and then it’s over (Turkle 200).” Turkle also discusses the topic of robots and how they are slowly replacing humans because of our avoidance of people. She explains how a simple robot, Paro, is more comforting to an individual than human affection. Robots eliminate all of the strife and stress that come with human relationships: robots do not cause cheat, they do not spread rumors, they get jobs done; “[Robots] will substitute when people fail (Turkle 5).”
Technology has come a long way since the invention of electricity and has created a plethora of new opportunities for us to explore. The digital age has consumed the world and its affect has drastically altered modern society and daily life. Eventually, there may become a point where technology and innovation becomes so advanced that the future may not even need us.
Word Count: 1818
Boyd, Danah. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven: Yale UP, 2014. Print.
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Perseus Book Group, 2011. Print.