Sunday, April 15, 2012

Douthat X-Rays The Man With the Google Glasses: Is Human Interaction and Communication Improving or Suffering in the Digital Era?

Ross Douthat at the New York Times has an article definitely worth a read in The Man With the Google Glasses.

The human "isolation" that the digital world can produce is unquestioned, but we wonder if Douthat is giving us "a fair and balanced" picture of what is actually happening out there in the real world.

For example, I just received an email this morning from someone who I had not seen or contacted since high school and who found me through Facebook.

In pre-digital days, such a refreshment of old school ties decades later was next to impossible. People moved away and disappeared into the mass of planetary humanity, with little chance of locating such lost contacts later.

In the digital era, finding old friends and classmates is much easier and is not an "isolated" incident by any means. Quite the contrary, in my family alone, I am guessing that dozens of contacts have been re-established in recent years with lost friends, relatives and acquaintances -- all through the Internet. Marvelous.

One must thus ask if Douthat's article might reflect one of the primary ailments of arch conservatism, which is an understandable but nevertheless skewed romantic nostalgia for the past that does not bear up to critical scrutiny.

Just how good were "human contacts" in the days before the digital era? and are they really "worse" today, as Douthat suggests?

As written at by Zoe O’Donoghue in “Friend Me”: The Impacts of Technology on Human Interaction, Running Head: Technology and Human Interaction,
"Certainly, the ways humans are interacting with each other are changing, and this is changing us.... Natalie Pennington maintains that while social networking sites like Facebook are drastically changing the way we interact, this change is not necessarily a bad thing.... She asserts, "You can learn a lot more about a person from their Facebook profile than the questionnaire they filled out to get a dorm room" (Pennington, 2008 ["Will You Be My Friend: Facebook as a Model for the Evolution of the Social Penetration Theory" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the NCA 94th Annual Convention, TBA, San Diego, CA, Nov 20, 2008.])." [Link added by LawPundit]
When this writer looks back, for example, on high school and college days, just how well THEN did we KNOW the people that we were interacting and communicating with? The answer in many cases is, not very well! We may have interacted together, but that interaction was often superficial. Modern digital communication may be no better in that regard, but likely no worse, and perhaps even better, when all is said and done.

At LawPundit, we previously quoted the famed novelist Thomas Wolfe on human isolation and loneliness:
"The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence".
Personal contact and digital communication serve as opportunities to come out of ourselves and to interact with the world around us.

The rest is up to us.

For this writer, the digital world has INCREASED our social community positively and substantially.

Although we do not doubt that others can have experienced this new world negatively, we are optimistic -- on balance -- that modern means of digital communication, as supplements to the tried and true alternatives of personal contact, are potentially welcome and useful additions to human life.

Indeed, we would suggest that is WHY they are so popular.

Hat tip to CaryGEE.

Crossposted from LawPundit.

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