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Technology is Destroying the Quality of Human Interaction

January 24, 2012 Opinions 22 Comments
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Melissa Nilles
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Photo by Andrea Rodriguez

I had a terrible nightmare the other night. Instead of meeting for a quick cup of coffee, my friend and I spent 30 minutes texting back and forth about our day. After that, instead of going in to talk to my professor during his office hours, I emailed him from home with my question. Because of this, he never got to know who I was, even though he would have been a great source for a letter of recommendation if he had. I ignored a cute guy at the bus stop asking me the time because I was busy responding to a text. And I spent far too much time on Facebook trying to catch up with my 1000+ “friends,” most of whom I rarely see, and whose meaning sadly seems to dispel even more as the sheer number of “connections” I’ve made grows.

Oh wait, that wasn’t a dream. This technological detachment is becoming today’s reality.

Little by little, Internet and mobile technology seems to be subtly destroying the meaningfulness of interactions we have with others, disconnecting us from the world around us, and leading to an imminent sense of isolation in today’s society. Instead of spending time in person with friends, we just call, text or instant message them. It may seem simpler, but we ultimately end up seeing our friends face to face a lot less. Ten texts can’t even begin to equal an hour spent chatting with a friend over lunch. And a smiley-face emoticon is cute, but it could never replace the ear-splitting grin and smiling eyes of one of your best friends. Face time is important, people. We need to see each other.

This doesn’t just apply to our friends; it applies to the world around us. It should come as no surprise that face-to-face interaction is proven by studies to comfort us and provide us with some important sense of well-being, whether it’s with friends or friendly cashiers in the checkout line of Albertson’s. That’s actually the motivation behind Albertson’s decision last year to take all of the self-checkout lanes out of its stores: an eerie lack of human contact.

There’s something intangibly real and valuable about talking with someone face to face. This is significant for friends, partners, potential employers, and other recurring people that make up your everyday world. That person becomes an important existing human connection, not just someone whose disembodied text voice pops up on your cell phone, iPad or computer screen.

It seems we have more extended connections than ever in this digital world, which can be great for networking, if it’s used right. The sad fact of the matter is that most of us don’t. It’s too hard to keep up with 1000 friends, let alone 200. At that point, do we even remember their names? We need to start prizing the meaning of quality in our connections, not sheer quantity.

One of my best friends from my hometown has 2,241 Facebook friends. Sure, her posts get a ton of feedback, but when I asked her about the quality of those relationships, she said to me that she really has few friends that she can trust and spend time with happily. Using a strange conundrum like this as a constructive example, we should consider pruning our rampant online connections at the very least.

Past evolutionary psychology research by British anthropologist and psychologist Robin Dunbar has revealed that people are actually limited to a certain number of stable, supportive connections with others in their social network: roughly 150. Furthermore, recent follow-up research by Cornell University’s Bruno Goncalves used Twitter data to show that despite the current ability to connect with vast amounts of people via the Internet, a person can still only truly maintain a friendship with a maximum of 100 to 200 real friends in their social network.

While technology has allowed us some means of social connection that would have never been possible before, and has allowed us to maintain long-distance friendships that would have otherwise probably fallen by the wayside, the fact remains that it is causing ourselves to spread ourselves too thin, as well as slowly ruining the quality of social interaction that we all need as human beings.

So what are we doing with 3000 friends on the Internet? Why are we texting all the time? Seems like a big waste of time to me. Let’s spend more time together with our friends. Let’s make the relationships that count last, and not rely on technology to do the job for us.

Currently there are "22 comments" on this Article:

  1. flamelitface says:

    I have battled with the same problems. I think the internet has provided an excellent medium to be able meet new people by simply smashing strangers together and getting them to talk. But why we can’t extend this to face to face conversations is beyond me. There is an interesting solution proposed in the following website to exercise more spontaneous face to face conversation.

    http://www.ProjectOrigamiSwan.com

  2. flamelitface says:

    Observe the irony of using online interaction to avoid it…

  3. laureli postner says:

    EXACTLY. people need to stand up and start realizing the truth. All this destruction against one another isnt guna do any good. The world and its people has flipped completley, from hard workers and strugglers to lazy people. People have learned to give up so quickly because their handed everything. They dont know what its like to suffer. And maybe thats what this country needs. Its an extreme that people need to recongnize, but without people fighting it, itll just fall down right into a big dump pile.

  4. Aid says:

    I understand fully what this articles purpose is, but I believe that instead of stating the obvious, it could provide more ways to conquer this problem and once again return to human contact. Ideas on how people can avoid the technology would benefit this article. It is also ironic that an article about human interaction being destroyed by technology is on the internet, the main source of all technology.

  5. john doe says:

    i think technololgy absolutley is ruinng the quality of human life. its funny that this is online tho. anyways tho i dont use hardly any technology and try to stay away from it as much as possible becuase i like to tlak to poeple face to face, and it really bothers me when ur with someone and theyre calling anohter friend or texting someone or they invite u over thier house and then u end up watching tv for the whole time! i think thats incredibley rude, so i try to be very social to people, and i never ignore someone by texting or and i stay away from all this facebook crap too! its a total waste of time. i used to spend hours on there. and u kno what, i have way more real frineds, now that i deleted my facebook and have way more fun actually hanging out in person with poeple. and anyway look at the guy who made facebook! one of the wierdest guys ever. he probl;y has np frindes! u wanna b like that guy! pleeze. get off ur dumb cell phone get of the couch in front of the tv, and go have fun with real people!!

  6. john doe jr says:

    your ALL abunch of butt sniffers!!!

  7. Tommy says:

    Melissa, you hit the nail on the head. I just turned 50. I’ve been amazed at how my friendships over the past 10-15 years have dwindled to nothing more than FB posts and an occasional email or text. People seem to be more interested in returning a text than returning a phone call much less actually going by and seeing the person. While I think social media has some really interesting aspects its totally replaced true social relationships. I took my daughters to see WALL-E when it came out in 2008. Very cute and sweet movie. But it also showed humans had become so lazy they just rode around in recliners while communicating with others view a keyboard and monitor. We have fallen into this trap of believing we have to be accesible 24×7 through a device rather than a doorbell button…or sitting on the front porch talking….or just walking around the neighborhood talking to people face to face.

  8. Damian H says:

    Although technology has helped in so many ways, there is no doubt that human interaction, morality, socializing, and standards have changed for the worse. Different doesn’t always mean good. Faster and more efficient ways of communicating doesn’t mean good.

    Facebook is a huge problem, as it is a virtual high school where people create shrines. Twitter promotes ADD and poor grammar.

    Oh well.

  9. Julien says:

    I agree with all the points made in this article, (and most of the points afterwards) but I would argue the key problem is what I’m doing right now… writing on my mobile phone. This very limiting, slow, mistake provoking form of typing has caused people to become attracted to extremely superficial and ‘group’ chat systems such as twitter. Because you can write on a bus, in a bed, or wherever really you need to summarize your thoughts into a very basic form, avoid saying anything too developed or imaginative, avoid learning how to type with anything but your thumbs. I was interested in online chatting back in 2001 on IRC but became quote bored with the concept of group chatting, including very basic thoughts. Who are dominating properly written email these days? Advertisers.

  10. Ian swatt says:

    Because people want the validation of others. They want it constantly hence Facebook or what I call loser book.

    Low self esteem needs the constant validation of Facebook photos posts. Who cares if you ate ham for lunch? Oh gee that got 9 likes on Facebook. That must mean these people like me or i am good or popular.. NO it just means your an addict with an ego that needs validation all the time. Nothing will ever replace having a meal with your family and talking about the day.

    Texting is good for sales but not much else why can’t you pick up the phone and ask the same 10 questions you did spending 20 minutes texting?

    What a waste of time. Really you don’t want to talk to the person your texting. Your just bored for that particular moment.

  11. Eric Coppa says:

    I agree 100% on every single point mentioned in this article. this is great stuff. I’m a junior in high school and i’m writing my junior research paper on this exact topic!

  12. JB says:

    I believe in my article http://axewielderx.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/farewell-facebook/ I found the real root to the problem. It began with the like button. Now every frickin’ site on the planet has them and there is no reason to communicate or interact with any one. Frankly, I am rather amazed anyone gets comments anywhere. I have come to realize that a comment or real communication from another human being is simply never going to happen again for me. Yes, it does indeed look like a rather lonely future awaits not just me, but everyone if the trend continues.

  13. jon gibirdi says:

    Exactly. I have two daughters who barely talk anymore. I take them out for a birthday meal and they sit messaging their friends. People in the works canteen don’t talk anymore..some of them take breaks alone so they can be left alone to game and to surf. Everywhere I go there are phones beeping ‘ people shoving phones in peoples faces and basially not interacting. I’m not anti technology but to me my phone is a tool and when its done its job I put it away.

  14. cole what's his name says:

    can people today even demonstrate half of an example of what enjoyment and optimism is? the social network is completely abolishing all thought and life from those who are using. yes, we’re all hypocrites. today, people bow their heads as they walk down the sidewalk, and bury their heads deeply into other people’s business. if that’s not depressing enough, people use less brain power day to day. in essence, destroying modestly an hour to three hours of thought process each day. it all adds up, as well as the urge to google solutions rather than critically think them through. is their any appreciation? is their any soul left? they’d rather be secluded from a world full of opportunities and love and transferred into a virtual world of “entertainment” that their narrow minds have been pushed and subjected to. in the business world, technology, social media, and so forth is ideal… defeating any potential for people as a whole to realize their own demolition. well done, system. you’ve handed us the bone, and we’re licking it clean… as if what’s given to us is always good.

  15. Rhandey says:

    Thanks for writing this. I’m rethinking a lot of things about technology, too. I do find the kids faces, rather than being lit up with smiles, are being lit up by phone/tablet/computer screens. I’m trying to put my phone away more and am re-thinking my use of Facebook Thank you for the great article.

  16. bob says:

    destruction is within the eye (and mind) of the beholder ….. the quality of human interaction is sometimes aided by tech …. learn to accentuate the positive force and rely on the Truth …

  17. Redis Duraj says:

    There’s a video on youtube called “Inkuire: The Human Social Network Brand” that proposes a solution to our lack of face to face interaction in public. If any of you all see this, send me a reply about whether you think this can truly have an effect on our social trend and your thoughts in general about the movement.

  18. Rock says:

    I fail to see why face to face contact is better. Maybe I’d rather talk to someone else who isn’t present. Most of the people I’m forced to socialize with on a daily basis are boring and have little to say that has value to me. Sorry, harsh but true. I’d rather relax on my phone than talk about the weather for the billionth time, If not for Facebook, I’d have lost contact with 100s of people over the years. Technology, particularly social media makes me feel more connected with the rest of the world. Sorry Luddites, but face to face interaction is overrated and unnecessary.

  19. Steve says:

    @ Rock… You’re an @$$hole… You know that, right?

  20. Beth says:

    This just goes to show; Choose wisely what you do with your electronic device(s) & the amount of time you spend using them.

  21. Geek addict says:

    hi..Im college student, thanks for sharing :)

  22. 2ndegree says:

    I think we’ve already lost this war.There might be hope if and when that dreaded rumor of a cancer due to cell use actually
    text’s it’s ugly head and people become afflicted.Until then we should be working on a 12 text(step) program.Ultimately though it is up to us.We do have a choice.For the time being all we can do is watch the statistics and see how many more people will just become Quasi Dead Geriatric Zombies!

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