our on-line selves

Let me start by saying this is not another article trashing the use of technology. You will not hear me call for anyone to quit using Facebook or YouTube. But I think it is time to take a moment and briefly consider how technology is influencing our social relationships.    

Ironically, technology, hailed as an instrument of connection through social networking, can undermined relationships. There are a couple of reasons for this:

1. We are more connected with strangers and acquaintances at the cost of stronger connections with friends and family. We are in danger of knowing many people a little bit and no one in depth.

2. Technology distances us from other people. Why stop by for a face-to-face meeting when we can call? Why call when we can text, why text when we can drop a line on a social network? While these technologies encourage more frequent communication, they also encourage a more shallow and unsubstantial form of communication.

Even when we are face-to-face with others, many times we are not really present. Many are busy texting or viewing things in the electronic world. In the last several years, I have come across many who were present in body, but absent in spirit. The technological world is constantly teasing with the promise that something, somewhere, or someone is more interesting somewhere else. 

3. People in the technological world rarely see us at our worst. They do not watch us break down, fall apart, fall down, or lose it. They only see the carefully constructed façade we present on-line and that is very different from real life. The greatest danger of the technological world used to be that we would run into people who were not who they said they were. We still hear many warnings about scams and predators on-line. But, perhaps the greatest danger is that we create a fictional self, an on-line self, that does not reflect who we really are.

I’ve asked many people if they say and do things on-line that they would never do in person and the answer is most often Yes.

We ought to stop and ask ourselves if any given technology is helping or harming our connections with others. In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam quotes the Amish, “We can almost always tell if a change will bring good or bad tidings. Certain things we definitely do not want, like television and the radio. They would destroy our visiting practices. We would stay at home with the television or the radio rather than meet with other people…How can we care for our neighbor if we do not visit them or know what is going on in their lives.”

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