Almost two years ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Sour Taste of Technological Advance” and, more than anything else, it was a written exploration of the little ways in which technology has negatively affected society and human interaction. It was about awareness and consideration of current circumstances; however, it was not an outright rejection of technology.
This article is the flip side of that coin—the sweet taste of technological advance—as life is now, two years later.
To the generations that grew up mostly without Internet it must seem strange that young people’s lives now are split between “the real world” and some virtual realm. I can’t tell you how many times even my parents, who admittedly aren’t that old, have questioned why the net is so important to me. Of course, the question is usually phrased more like “why do you waste so much time online?,” but the sentiment is the same.
The real problem, the real disconnect exists in this notion that what my generation does online is somehow unreal or less important than what happens AFK (away from keyboard) or IRL (in real life). Our lives are not split between real and unreal, but rather we conduct our real lives in two venues, simultaneously and, usually, identically. Despite all of the radio chatter about internet predators and social distrust, it is possible to be who you really are when you’re online, to live one life.
When it comes to meeting new people and building friendships, the internet is a powerful communication tool.
The internet is how we meet, where we meet, when we meet, and why we meet—it’s everything. The Internet is intrinsic, not separate.
And that is precisely why I disagree with the idea that people nowadays possess “online friends” and friends “in real life,” with no crossover between the two. I’m particularly against the perception of “online friends” as being somehow lesser—people, in person or online, are real and they matter.
Correct me if I’m wrong but, being friends means being there for each other and genuinely caring about each other’s welfare, yes? Being a friend doesn’t mean that you have to be neighbors on the same suburban street; it means being neighbors in heart and existing on the same emotional plane with and for each other. Physical proximity is not the primary determining factor for friendship anymore than blood is the only (or even the most important) determining factor for family.
Technology doesn’t just stop with or at the Internet and the human relationships it can aid in developing though…
There are cell phones, video games, and televisions. There are assistive technologies, medical technologies, productivity technologies, instructive technologies, administrative technologies, and information technologies. Technology, technology, technology—nowadays, we have a technology for anything and everything. We’re in a techno age and I don’t just mean the genre of musical; although, that is also technically relevant. (Get it, techno/technically?)
A major upside to the number of different technologies is that life is, in many ways, easier for everyone from Jane Dow and Joe Blow to the Big Bad Businessman and that Crazy Cool Corporation. People can communicate quicker. Information is more readily accessible. Entertainment has been diversified. Healthy and ill individuals alike can live longer. Schools are able to teach in and out of classrooms. Dangerous jobs have been delegated to machines.
Life is good, don’t you agree?
Technological advance means that I, as a person, am more capable than those who existed in the world of a century ago, or even those who already existed as little as two decades ago when I was born.
I can build and maintain friendships with people in other hemispheres on a daily basis.
I can access and make use of information without leaving the comforts of my home.
I can apply for and even accept an offer of admission from a top-level university program.
I can attempt to prevent, combat, treat, and even live with a variety of newly discovered illnesses.
I can maintain records for years without taking up an inch more of physical space.
I can navigate a conversation with someone speaking or writing in a foreign language.
I can call for emergency assistance on a deserted country road long after midnight.
I can live vicariously through a close friend’s gorgeous vacation photos.
I can work for a company whose headquarters or singular office building I have never entered.
And, I can write about technology and start a conversation without opening my literal mouth.
It’s undeniable that technology and society have changed, and technology and society will continue to change in an endless cycle. For the most part, humans benefit from this continuous change. We help ourselves and each other, and we ensure the possibility for a greater future for upcoming generations.
If society and technology didn’t change, didn’t advance, we would stagnate as a race. Had the sword never made way for the gun, had the abacus never stepped aside for the calculator, had the typewriter never bowed down to the word processor, we would have faded out of existence amid a graveyard of old ideas.
Change, you see, if absolutely vital and ultimately unavoidable. Thus, why not embrace it?
But, at the end of the day, there is sameness even in the world’s vast number of changes.
Friendships and relationships still take time, effort, and personal investment.
Information still has to be wanted, willingly accessed, and thoroughly absorbed to be useful.
College students are still tired every day and adamant that they didn’t go to that party last night.
Personal health is still neglected…until the problem is so bad that we can’t get off the couch.
Records are still messy, disorganized, and prone to being lost, even when kept in virtual files.
Conjugating verbs is somehow still imperfect even with instantaneous translation apps.
Being stuck on a deserted country road long after midnight is still dangerous.
Photos, whether polaroids or megapixels, still fill viewers with intense wanderlust.
Work is still required to make a living and provide more than memories for yourself.
And, a conversation still requires more than one active participant.
I invite you (i.e. beg you) to share your opinions on societal change and technological advance in the comment section below. Any contribution to the conversation is a step in the right direction. Does technology put a sweet or a sour taste in your mouth? Is technology anything worth wondering/caring/conjecturing about?
Tell me what you really think, what your best predictions are, or just tell me if you think The Gentleman’s Armchair is an amazing webcomic (I concur).
Or, consider the as-of-yet unspoken battle between these two ideas:
Whatever you decide to say, just say it (go, do it, right now), and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. After all, in this day and age, I’m only a Macbook/Kindle/iPod/cell phone away and physical distance means nothing. Cheers to accepting that everything, on the net and off, is truly happening IRL.