Are we really connected? Part 1

Since the beginning of this year, I have been looking into a topic that can easily be overlooked by technology-centered fields such as HCI, CS, etc. This topic is the antithesis to the popular notion of "social connectedness", and the subconscious expectation and push for technological innovation to bring about a sense of utopia in society.

Here is an excerpt from the paper I wrote:

As a society, we have become engrossed in technology--gadgets, websites, apps, etc. Some offer to connect us with other people using different modes of interaction made possible by technology. But though technology has simplified parts of our lives and created new experiences and opportunities for connection, technology is also seemingly becoming the object of our attention, affection, and interaction, drawing us away from each other and the physical world and into itself.

As we focus on what most these technologies make possible, we are missing what they don’t--traditional sociability as experienced in the physical world. We seem to be losing the value of of real life, face to face social interaction to online interaction and its quasi-human-centered social connectedness. I believe that the value of offline sociability in the physical world is being undermined with the pervasive and ubiquitous use of online social interaction and other technologies. Thus, designers that value true social connectedness should start to think outside of the digital box.

Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, expounds upon this problem space in her book Alone Together. Turkle explores the ways with which our technologies continually shape us and the effects of technology on human relationships and social interaction. She mentions that with technology, we seem to be always connected together but yet alone, “furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens [1].” She mentions, “after an evening of avatar-to-avatar talk in a networked game, we feel, at one moment, in possession of a full social life and, in the next, curiously isolated, in tenuous complicity with strangers [2].” This same notion is iterated by Mark Wilson, the founder of Philanthroper.com. He states, “the biggest problem in social media right now isn’t getting people engaged online, it’s getting people engaged in person. Foursquare and photo apps like Instagram definitely interact with the real world, but they tend to appeal to friends online more than the friends you’re actually, physically hanging out with [3].”

[1]Turkle, Sherry. "The Flight From Conversation." The New York Times. 09 Jan. 2012. Web. 2 May 2012. .
[2]Turkle, Sherry. "Alone Together." Introduction. Alone Together. New York: Basic Books, 2011. 1-22. Alone Together by Sherry Turkle. 29 Apr. 2012 .
[3]Wilson, Mark. "Jukey: A Networked Jukebox That Only Plays Crowd Favorites." Fast Company Design. Fast Company, 04 Apr. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2012.