BlogsHuman (DIS)Connection in Digital World

2017.05.30 18:15

Human (DIS)Connection in Digital World


Current technologies ranging from social media to artificial intelligence are thought to have catastrophic effects on humans as social creatures if used to replace rather than enhance, provoking false senses of connection, psychological changes to how people approach relationships, companionship, and negative emotional responses to various types of communications. They seem to be subtly destroying the meaningful interactions we have with others, disconnecting us from the world around us, and leading to an imminent sense of isolation in today’s society.


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Psychologist Sherry Turkle puts it brilliantly describes the road we are going down by spending all of our time on online communication saying, “We are sacrificing conversation for mere connection,” in her TED talk (Turkle, 2012). We are sacrificing the experiences and understanding of real world interactions that are necessary in our development for a mere connection that is established in social media, one that is superficial. These connections that are no more than surface deep are becoming sufficient replacements for face to face interaction among internet users because they are easier to establish, but have dire consequences for social development in the future. Turkle also details this phenomenon very well in her talk when saying, “So from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship” (Turkle, 2012). If so, will robots be building relationships with others on our behalf in a near future? How tragic is this to mankind?


It is undeniable that we as humans look for companionship throughout our lives. After all, we have always been and we are still social creatures. However, a text saying “I love you” is not the same thing as if someone were saying it directly to another person. It does not provoke the same level of emotional attachment, at least to most of people, and this among other things is what is wrong with internet- mediated communications and why direct interaction is still so vital in our lives.


Psychologists who are pessimistic and critical about the new means of communications argue that digital tools have only engendered ‘digital psychological disconnect’ in relationships (Sreenivasan & Weinberger, 2016). That is, diminished emotional awareness and connections can emerge when a society interacts increasingly more with devices than directly with people. It can be realized in several ways: 1) a digital community allows for blunt and truncated expression of one’s thoughts and one’s emotions; or 2) its anonymity emboldens people to express very harsh opinions about others or their endeavors; or 3) it allows for instant cyberspace-available judgments about others that are widespread and difficult to delete; or 4) a decrease of intimate and private expression of emotions regarding oneself and others.


If digital communication becomes the predominant way of interacting with others, we may risk losing the ability to “read” subtle facial expressions in communication, to recognize psychological boundaries, and to understand through seeing and experiencing how our communications impact others. More profoundly, if digital communication becomes the main mode of relating, it may lead to rendering face-to-face interpersonal interactions alien and uncomfortable, and therefore avoided.


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While the digital age imbues our life with instantaneous and wide-ranging connectivity, it also creates pseudo-connectivity, where “friends” may number in the “thousands” (Sreenivasan & Weinberger, 2016); yet, do we even remember their names? We need to start prizing the meaning of quality in our connections, not sheer quantity. Human psychology is “hardwired” toward a desire to fit in with others and establish true emotional connection. In fact, belonging remains critical to a sense of one’s well-being. Psychologically, that sense of “being left-out” may bring about a sense of alienation, lack of validation, and feeling judged and rejected. Or, it may contribute to being risk-aversive, and result in avoiding others for fear of rejection or discomfort.


The critical issue to consider is whether the next wave of technological advances will render in-person human connectivity irrelevant and useless. Can all our needs be met virtually? Does the digital world that we now inhabit run the risk of creating a generation of emotionally avoidant, detached, and blunted people? Or, perhaps overly self-focused individuals who lack empathy for others? Some people may dismiss these concerns attributing them to technophobic fear-mongers. However, it is clear that positive emotional and physical connections to people lead to empathy, which is a profound dimension of the human experience. It is what promotes kindness, concern, and altruism; it feeds the human spirit and it is something we don’t want to lose.


As technology improves it has become more and more human. Apple’s Siri attemps to mimic humanity through snarky conversation and humor, and Google attempts to understand our behaviors to deliver more relevant information and content to better connect with users through their various services (Chan, 2014). But even as it's shrunk the world and brought us closer together, it's threatened to push us further apart. Like any useful tool, to make technology serve us well requires the exercise of good judgment. There is something intangibly real and valuable about talking with someone face to face. After all, humans have always been and will always be social creatures.




“Transcript of “Connected, but Alone?”” Sherry Turkle: Connected, but Alone?TED, n.d. Web. 10 May 2014. http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together/transcript#t-734000

Sreenivasan S. & Weinberger, L. “The Digital Psychological Disconnect.” July 10, 2016.

Chan D. “The Human Connection in a Digital World” April 27, 2014.


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