Technology and Socialization

by: Alyssa Ruffolo

As technology grows, we become less and less dependent on other people for basically anything. Is this good, or bad?

Many who would argue that technology has positively improved life would probably argue for it because of positive changes it has brought such as improvement of safety, accessibility, and convenience. As far as safety, getting help from authorities in an emergency is much easier than it was years ago without cell phones or emergency call boxes. If an elderly person falls and gets hurt, he/she can call help by simply pressing a button on a necklace. If your car breaks down in the middle of the highway, you can take out your cell phone and call AAA, the police, or a friend in a matter of seconds. Years ago, you would have to flag someone down or walk to the nearest residence/ gas station and ask for help. In those times, people who were more vulnerable, such as women, elderly people, or anyone physically or mentally challenged, could be in potentially life-threatening situations with no way of accessing quick help.

On the topic of access, now with the growth of technology, people who previously had social issues or other obstacles which prevented them from communicating or making friends, now may do so over the internet. For example, in the Deaf community, the growth and development of technology has greatly improved their access to society and helped their community grow and prosper. It has greatly helped them climb the ladder towards equal access. Now Deaf people may communicate via video message, facetime, video phone, facebook groups that allow Deaf people from all over the country/world to connect. They may also call an interpreter or communicate with a hearing person by way of print rather than having that disconnect with face to face communication. Also, people who have trouble socializing and making friends can now connect with people of similar interests all over the internet. Online support groups, social media sites, blogs, fanclubs, physical trainers, tutors, and many more may also serve as a comfort and way of feeling a part of a community without ever having that struggle of face-to-face introduction and conversation startup.

On the downside, technology has pushed our already extremely individualistic Western society even further into isolation. My grandmother is first generation from Italy. Of course, she moved to America when she was young and so she has a more dated idea of what life in another country is like. However, she always emphasizes to me how different the community was in Italy. She keeps in contact with her sisters who still live there with their families, and they agree. Americans are different. We like to do things on our own. We like to say we lived the “dream,” starting from the bottom and working our way up with no help. We are taught and most of us strongly believe that our futures – goals/aspirations, college, career – are more important than focusing on our partners/family and working on relationships. It is encouraged to leave your family and move far away if it means you will get a better education or have a great career opportunity elsewhere. Whether this is right or wrong, I can’t answer that, but I can say that this is very unlike most other cultures. In many other cultures families stick together, sometimes even grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins live together under one roof or very close by.

I took an Intercultural Communications class when I was a student at Bloomsburg University and it really opened my eyes to how different the American (any Western) culture really is than the rest of the world. Many of us like to think that we do not have much of a culture because we are so diverse and geographically great in size. However, learning about many other cultures made me realize more and more about our own.

Prior to the internet, people in this country depended on each other more for certain services and information. People couldn’t just wonder about something and simply type the question into a machine and quickly receive a response. They couldn’t order their food or groceries online and then drive over to pick them up with minimal human interaction. Now even if we do decide to physically shop in the grocery store, we still often opt to go through self-checkout because it is quicker and easier. When people called the doctor’s office, customer service, or their bank, they didn’t press numbers in response to a computer-generated voice; they spoke with someone directly. Clothing and furniture shopping was done in person in a store. Now we just search online for what we want and have it ordered and shipped without ever speaking with a salesperson. When we want to buy a car, we barely need to even speak with a sales representative because we have already looked online ahead of time and know what we want and what colors it’s offered in by the time we get to the dealership. All of these things limit our human interaction and dependency, and give us the mentality that we don’t even need the help of the employees there. We can do this all on our own.

That mentality may be empowering to some, and it may be toxic to others. People who come from a community-oriented culture/background may see these changes as horrifying. When we don’t depend on each other – our neighbors, friends, people from work, people from our place of worship, even our own family – we subconsciously feel isolated and alone. Naturally, humans want to feel part of a group, a bigger picture. Others who have been disconnected and oppressed for years and years may feel empowered. Deaf people can finally communicate without having to go through someone else or hope that their friend is home when they show up to their house. Elderly people can feel safe and at ease knowing that medical help is just a click away if needed. We can find out what is happening all over the world and stay connected with the latest news/information in the palms of our hands.

Is the growth of technology a good or bad thing? With the explosion happening so fast, do we know enough yet to be able to determine the answer, or must we wait until hindsight can give us a clearer understanding? Could it be both good and simultaneously bad?

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