Essay: Does technology make us more alone?

Posted: 20 July, 2016

Essay: Does technology make us more alone?

“Get connected” is a phrase that we have grown accustomed to hearing and seeing in the 21st century. With technology developing faster than ever, the digital world is (literally) at our fingertips. Some might say that the introduction of social networking has helped to bring people closer together. My aim is to demonstrate that, though our online communities may have a likeness to real-life societies, they are in fact nothing but numb conceptions of our day to day lives fuelled by self-pride and egoism. With our reliance on social media sites such as Facebook actually cutting us from real-life society, it’s a sad truth that mankind is looking at a very forlorn future.

By definition, the term ‘digital’ represents “values of a physical quantity” expressed as a series of digits: 0 and 1. On the opposite end of the spectrum, humans are identified as having character, weaknesses, imperfections, and fragility – attributes that characterise us as a species like no other on this planet. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that words, speech and song can convey a range of human emotions but, in my opinion, doing so eloquently requires aptitude. In spite of this, you will see a number people popping up on social media sites documenting their lives and feelings as though they were a best friend or their private diary.

Nowadays, we’re less likely to hear someone say: “I can’t wait to tell my friends”, and more likely to hear: “I can’t wait to put this on Facebook” or “Can somebody write my essay for me?”. So why has Facebook suddenly become everyone’s best friend? The younger generation of today perceives Facebook as being a part of everyday life and has become addicted to consulting news feeds and notifications. In this day and age, technology seems to get in the way of flourishing friendships. Gone are the days when one could spend time chatting and getting to know a friend; all it takes is to have your friend request approved and then you can find out almost anything about that person (where they live, whether they are in a relationship, where they work, what their favourite quote is, etc…). Not only is it affecting the nature of human interaction, our heavy dependence on social media sites has also been proven to result in children and adults alike doing fewer outdoor activities as well as studying and working less.

Addictive by nature, social media sites are impacting negatively on our societies. This can be seen every day on the news with increasing cases of cyber-bullying, harassment, theft and sexual crimes, meaning that our community is not as ‘together’ as we like to think it is. It is a scary fact that numerous teens with Facebook accounts don’t fully understand the implications of having a public profile thus making themselves vulnerable to danger. To them, each of their Facebook friends is someone to be trusted and perhaps have some fun chatting to; however the frightening truth is that they could really be talking to anyone. With the number of hacking incidents also on the up, can we ever be confident that our friends are who they say they are? It’s horrifying to see that so many people ‘check in’ on Facebook too, freely announcing to a long list of acquaintances their whereabouts.

As well as numerous users being generous with their personal information, they are also quite liberal with who they consider their ‘friends’. After all, its formal definition is “a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection” and not “a person that one said ‘hi’ to in the corridor at work”. We are all guilty of this, though. Not only that, we all feel bad turning down friend requests and removing friends from our contacts which is why the numbers are misleading and have a tendency to spiral out of control. A recent study showed that Facebook users are seen as more attractive as they near 300 friends, but that this magnetism weakens if they exceed this by too many. I’d be willing to bet that most users only talk to around 10%  of this total on a regular basis and could count no more than five (excluding family) as true close friends.

Studies suggest that our newfound love for Facebook is due to the reward centre in our brain triggering pleasurable feelings with each ‘Like’ or positive comment we receive. But by putting some of our most intimate life events in the public domain, we are encouraging as much negativity as positivity, inviting others to pass comments and judge us. Whether premeditated or not, the decision to post a photo, status update or to share a link, is a cry for attention. No longer satisfied with human relations, we are psychologically (and egoistically) building our own modified, digital representation of ourselves in a fantasy world. Yet, with social media references all around us, it is impossible to escape the grip that technology has on today’s society.

Our generation is overdosing on digital media. Members of the community are lacking from everything that makes them human – weaknesses, imperfections, fragility… all that we see are the manipulated, faultless versions of people online. I can’t help but think that, in this new technologically advanced era, we are more alone than ever.