There’s a lot of talk these days about how e-mail, Twitter, texting and Facebook are affecting culture. Some say they dumb down the society in various ways; tending to make us all a bit ADD, narcissistic, shallow or… just plain stupid. But all that is a bit personal. What concerns me is that it’s making for some very interesting moral difficulties–affecting how we relate to others.
One of the first advantages people realise when they start using ‘the net’ a lot to interact, is that it quickly becomes a convenient substitute for for real communication. You can follow the ‘forms’ of correct behaviour without the hassle of looking someone in the eye. So it’s very easy to fall into a trap of avoidance and defensiveness.
And then there is the point at which one starts to see how easy it is to be your own ‘Joan Collins’; saying snarky things that have the patina of politeness. Or simply not replying to any message you’d rather not deal with. You’re saying something by not replying. (Don’t call us, we’ll call you.) Can you imagine how you’d react if, face to face, you asked someone a question and they simply ignored you? And yet, on the web that has become normative.
Lack Of Connection
And then there is the unintentional consequence that you start to lose touch. You can fool yourself Facebooking and texting all day, thinking you’re really in touch with people. But is it so? All the well wishes and shared photos aren’t really communication because there’s no investment. Any investment, including friendship, involves at least some risk. ‘Liking’ things together on a social network is risk-free and antiseptic and as such not nearly as rich as an interaction where you learn a little about one another, warts and all.
More chances for misunderstanding
e-Life is necessarily 2-D. No matter how ‘fast’, it’s more like ship to shore radio than real interaction. Misunderstandings are easier to uncover than face to face. And once a misunderstanding does ensue, it’s much harder to correct because each 2-D response is a little more removed. Again, the defensive sets in. The explanations.
There is an etiquette of people I know now who, if they call me and I can’t answer the phone, assume I should call them back. IOW: the fact that everyone has Caller ID now makes a missed call an implicit ‘get back to me’.
Then there are the people with various levels of expectation on e-mails. I’ve found people have a variable number of minutes/hours/days by which I’m expected to reply to a message. Is there an accepted time to RSVP on an e-mail? Is a ‘text’ by definition more ‘urgent’?
Aside from all the various protocols to navigate, I submit that, instead of bringing us closer the e-world now requires us to be much more tolerant and understanding. There are now so many ways to get pissed off and so many techniques to act like yer reaching out when yer really just putting up walls. And that’s -hard-. The e-world makes it so easy to lie to one another, but mostly to ourselves, about the quality of our interactions.
In short, far from making communication easier and more rich, the Internet can actually ask far more of us; luring us into even more isolation; like all those diet foods that promise so much by making it easier than ever for us to lie to ourselves about what we’re really putting into our bodies. Less and less do I find e-communication to be truly nourishing. It definitely has its place but for real contact? Looking someone in the eye is the only way to go.