Sunday, July 16, 2006

Distractedly, Hungrily Yours 

Face-to-face, voice or text? A couple of articles have me wondering about personal communication and maintaining or building contact and intimacy. Firstly, an article in the Washington Post:

A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.

'Social isolation growing in U.S., study finds Many Americans have 'less of a safety net of close friends and confidants'' (The Washington Post at MSNBC, 23 June 2006).

The article included comments by one of the study contributors from Duke University, as well as a Harvard researcher who suggested TV contributed to the shift and a University of Toronto academic who commented that social networks are not fraying but changing.

By coincidence (I briefly set a Google Alert for 'adaptive technology' - changed that pretty quick smart), I came across Lost connection: Is technology isolating us? (Chicago Sun-Times, 12 July 2006).

"It does seem impossible to find anyone under the age of 30 out in public who is not on a cell phone, even when they are walking with a group of friends," observed Jeffrey Sconce, associate professor of radio, TV and film at Northwestern University. "It's almost as if no one is interested in what they are actually doing, but in what someone else they know might be doing."

Sconce said telecommunications companies benefit from "a new social order where more and more people seem to communicate, not to pass along any actual information, but for the sake of communicating itself."

"I often wonder what it is doing to good old-fashioned introspection," he said. "With all the emphasis on constant electronic dialogue, when will people find the time to actually just sit and think?"

I see people under 30 not talking on mobiles all the time. I don't think conversation's ever been just about sharing information. On the other hand, I've come across the same young woman at the bus stop near the shops a couple of times. She must work in a nearby business and while she waits she phones friends to see what they're doing. Whatever they're doing, she sounds regretful that she's not with them, or doing something more fulfilling than waiting for the bus. I don't think she's looked at me yet (not that I'd necessarily notice and quite understandable, given that I'm usually eating cashews and dropping a few on the footpath) and I wonder if it's not enough that she has a job, her time is now her own and she's on her way home?

But I'm old and maybe I've just hit that age when I should be whinging about how you can't understand what anyone's singing these days. Do you call that singing? And maybe I recognise myself a little and wish I could have learnt to be more present in everyday situations earlier. So now I'm not talking about communication and I am talking about wanting to be distracted and tuned in at the same time, that's what we're using the Internet and mobiles to do.

Then TechCrunch mentioned a new service called Twttr. Twttr allows people to SMS their friends all at once. The review says, 'People are using it to send messages like ?Cleaning my apartment? and ?Hungry?.'


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