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Call me old-fashioned but...Electronic handshaking and the technological divide: More than just smoother business practice

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | March 15th, 2010

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
The term “net” implies a device of capture or constriction that possesses enveloping properties. When used in reference to that little old invention known by html hypertext coders as the World Wide Web, this is a rather apt analogy considering that few of us can live without it, and online addiction isn't as rare as one may think. I'm sure many of you can't even begin to recall a time in your lives when the Internet did NOT exist (I still remember the days of typewriters, word processing, and Ataris — shut up, I know I'm getting up there!) — when you weren't able to conduct all of your research for school projects via the web, when you couldn't maintain long-distance friendships or relationships without racking up the phone bill, when you couldn't check the status of your bank account(s) from the convenience of your living room sofa, when you couldn't find out about the latest fashions and pop culture from around the globe, without having to “leave on a jet plane.” The advent of the Internet has changed lives — there are no two ways around it — but whether its life-changing properties are for the better or worse is still largely up for debate.

woman holding a phoneLike any ground-breaking innovation, it too has some serious downfalls; the commodification and de-valuation of music and consequent stealing of tracks merely scratches the tip of the iceberg. Child porn rings, white supremacist message boards, organized crime solicitation, online instructions for bomb and drug manufacture, pro-anorexia websites, and services to aid in eliciting extramarital affairs are just some of the Web's more “fantastic” offerings. But, with that said, all of this stuff already existed in the REAL world. It wasn't that the web corrupted humans. Rather, it merely has served as a MEDIUM through which our corruption has become concentrated.

While I would never discount that the “digital web revolution” has aided tremendously in terms of conducting business and leading to a more international perspective in terms of world issues, when it comes to the business of personal relations, I gotta tell you, I maintain a vastly different view. To me, in the age of globalization and technological advance where academics and suits alike postulate the “interconnectedness” of our globe, it would seem that we're more disconnected than ever before. As knowledge of each other, different cultures, and “the underground” has become increasingly more accessible, our relationships have moved into progressively more superficial terrain. The Internet, however, is not the sole perpetrator of this phenomenon. No, the development of ALL complex communication technologies has aided and abetted in this transformation of our social worlds.

Case and point: I was recently “dating” a gentleman who refused to pick up the phone in order to have an actual conversation with me. He'd spend hours texting me, and then several more hours apologizing for miscommunication and arguments that resulted because of texting's limited capacity to capture the emotion and intention behind one's words. Yet, he couldn't seem to understand why perhaps actual speaking may be more suitable in this scenario. His excuse was that texting was more “convenient” for him, allowing him to engage in a multitude of other activities while socializing. Like any woman with self-respect, I read this as essentially his desire to half-ass a so-called “relationship.” Suffice it to say, it was short-lived. I'm not here on anyone's convenience, and as “old-fashioned” as it may sound, I'm not actually capable of forming a deep emotional bond with someone merely by reading words on a screen. I don't know — in-person engagement, hearing a person's voice, and experiencing them in a three-dimensional capacity tends to work a little better — but, maybe that's just me?

It is of my humble opinion that our technological OVER-stimulation has led to intellectual AND, importantly, emotional UNDER-stimulation as we battle to attend to everything at once, but NOTHING in its entirety. Everything is now seen as “fleeting” or “transient,” and we can establish intense passionate love affairs as quickly as we can end them. In sum, we've somehow managed to convince ourselves that wishing one of our so-called “friends” happy birthday via Facebook upon receiving notification that it is so-and-so's special day makes up for the fact that the other 364 days a year this person's existence remains unacknowledged in our lives. Then there are some — more extreme tech supporters we'll call them - who would rather be immersed to such a degree in a virtual made-up world that they've gone to the extent of creating fake profiles, fake bank accounts, and yes, you got it, fake relationships via “interactive” programs such as SecondLife, to which membership does not come cheap. One needs to ask themselves what is wrong with society when people would rather formulate and maintain their identities and interactions through a computer screen, than actually endeavour to intermingle the good old-fashioned way!

If you don't want to take my word for it that the Net has led to the above-described “social ill,” I hate to break it to ya but the social scientific research is in my favour. As I recently learned in my sociology of deviance class, hardcore Net fanatics and individuals who were raised in “wired” families tend to socialize less, suffer from increased loneliness and depression, and often lack a strong sense of personal identity because the net leads to a phenomenon known as “de-individuation.”

It is built within our genetic and evolutionary codes that humans are a social species — we are naturally compelled to flock together with like-others. In this way, the idea of the “technological divide” can not only be applied to differences in accessibility and use based on socioeconomic and demographic factors, but moreover, said term can be used to designate how social relations have become significantly altered as a result of the Net's introduction. Like any major change enacted upon society, characteristically, there are those who are pro and those who maintain firm positions of staunch opposition. Call me a Luddite if you will, but I look back fondly on the days where conversing meant talking in person not through MSN, cultural education involved the incorporation of ethnographic methods, and phones had not yet transmutated into all-inclusive entertainment units equipped with their very own home recording and playback devices.
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