Is Technology Destroying Our Culture?

We might as well ask if the Pope is Catholic, or if Tom Brady is a future hall of famer.

Of course, technology impacts culture—destructively. For example, how could it not when people living in the same house or workplace can all be looking at different screens and communicating with different people—some within the same physical space—without even considering that they could talk with each other face to face?

It never crosses their minds. How’s that for culture shock?

Technology is definitely changing how people interact with each other, and not always for the better. It also speaks quite loudly as to where our public spheres may be found (online instead of discussions at the dining room table or in meetings at work).

From social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. But we end up with neither friendship nor companionship. And, we feel as isolated and abandoned, as lonely and afraid of intimacy, as ever

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It’s Now or Never
In our technology driven world, people expect to have the means to communicate with others at any given moment. The ability to create relationships based solely on mutual understandings and shared common interests have fed the social media phenomena.
Easy access to technology creates the situation that, when you look around, people are often using smartphones or using their computers to check on what’s happening in the world around them, providing a feeling of connectedness. But it’s a myth. Ease of connection to the online world does not equate to mutual understandings and shared common interests in any real sense.
This approach of using technology has an impact on relationships. We are no longer a world that truly cares about others, only what others think about us, as we put on our fake Facebook faces, letting the world just how wonderful our lives are. What kind of values are those?
What if they’re not so wonderful? What happens then?
Who do we talk to about it, in person, face to face, when we’re conditioned to reach out online, asking for help that comes usually only in the form of platitudes and pleasantries that are so general they mean little to the hurting spirit or wounded heart? In the past, people were able to get together physically and discuss concerns. While the answers weren’t always helpful, they at least had some heart behind them.

We select to use technology when we feel vulnerable and technology provides us with an illusion of comfort and of being in control.

Driven by Goals
Today’s social interaction is a goal-driven; we have reasons for saying what we say, according to Em Griffen, Professor of Communication at Wheaton College. But with the speed of technology and pace for which many people respond, do we really consider and think through the potential consequences of what we are conveying?

We can get attention, always be heard, and never have to be alone. But connecting electronically can also lead to isolation, as it often doesn’t allow the time to think or listen to each other with the constant sensory stimulus of texts, tweets, Facebook updates, emails and more. Thus, we’re lonely and afraid of intimacy. So, we turn to technology for the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.

“As we expect more from technology; we start to expect less from each other,” said Sherry Turkle, Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at MIT. “We often hide by sending messages electronically rather than discussing difficult issues in person. This is because of the belief that online is less personal and the effort to connect on a human level and is reduced by sending messages online rather than in person.”

If by talking about the issues or concerns in person, discussions are open up where feelings, thoughts, ideas are exposed to be shared and probed. Turkle suggests we can hide from each other even though we are more electronically connected. She points out we’re not building relationships with each other, but building relationship with technology as if it’s a real thing.

Turkle explains that technology doesn’t empathize, and doesn’t experience death or disappointments. Instead we select to use technology when we feel vulnerable and technology provides us with an illusion of comfort and of being in control.

“Social media and the Internet exaggerate our narcissistic behaviors by enabling us to focus on ourselves and broadcast our every move”

Dangerous Digital Narcissism
Andrew Keen, author of Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution is Dividing, Diminishing and Disorienting Us, agrees. He states emphatically that the Internet and social media bring on a dangerous form of digital narcissism whereby we share everything online—practically nothing is private. Keen said this is enabling us to lose something essential of what it means to be human, and along with it our sense of culture. In essence, Keen believes that social media is a detriment to society.

“Social media and the Internet exaggerate our narcissistic behaviors by enabling us to focus on ourselves and broadcast our every move,” Keen said. “Even though humans are quite adaptable to technology, I worry for the future where we may have reached a point of no return—all privacy is lost.”

Marshall McLuhan, the first father and leading prophet of the electronic age, also discussed narcissism in his 1969 interview with Playboy magazine. Where Keen said that new media is exaggerating our narcissism, McLuhan argued that new communication technology is created as a result of our narcissism, as it is an extension of our bodies. McLuhan said this was beneficial to society as he emphasized, “The new extensions of man and the environment they generate are the central manifestations of the evolutionary process . . . .” Whereas McLuhan is optimistic and eager for the future of communication media and technology, Keen suggests that we need to think more critically about our use of new media.

In the end, some believe this makes us worse human beings who care less about the real needs of real people.

The Shape of “New” Communication

Harold Innis, author of seminal works on media, communication theory, and Canadian economic history, believed that new communication media throughout history shaped our society to what it is today. Innis wrote The Bias of Communicationwell before the advent of the Internet and social media, but much of what he discussed applies to current and future communication technologies.

Innis critically analyzed the transition of dominant communication technologies throughout time and how this shifted society. Through this he posited that culture creates media, which then changes society. Our current society is where it is today because of these shifts in dominant communication media and the societal changes that ensued.

This includes the ease of connecting through technology and communicating online, which impacts culture both locally and globally, as more and more people choose to communicate online instead of in person. In the end, some believe this makes us worse human beings who care less about the real needs of real people.

So much for technology impacting culture in a positive way, these pundits said. Instead, it is destroying the very foundation that traditional society—one of close, cherished communication—was built on.

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