Sunday August 2nd. 2009. 10.44am.
Interesting, or at least worthy of some comment, article on the BBC news website today.
The debate at the link, is centred around discussion of the Archbishop of Canterbury's statement that Facebook, Twitter and their ilk are ruining our ability to interact in person.
I wonder. There are, as ever two sides to this argument, and in my characteristic devils advocate-ed-ness, I am going to play not one side, but both. (no puns intended there).
I have to agree, that by spending so much time online, conversing with people in inane and utterly pointlessly shallow conversation that it does mean that I am not actually going out and having the same pointless and shallow conversations in person.
Somehow, I can accept 'small talk' when it's online, or in a text message, or via Facebook chat (dammit, for it really is the scourge of society, that not only is it helplessly addictive, but that it also doesn't bloody work properly !), but do roll my eyes (I roll my eyes across the table, and really do hope that someone else is awake and generous enough to roll the back again) at 'small talk' conversations in real life. Not because I am snobbish about them - well ok, maybe just a little, but maybe because, I've never quite got the hang of 'pointless' conversation. There is ironically a point to pointless conversation, it tells you more about the person, albeit unintentionally, than you may get to know otherwise. You get to see what are the random and scatty things that circulate around this person's mind ?
See, I find people both fascinating and annoying. Not really getting them, as much, if not more so than they don't get me. Now I really don't know if this is actually a natural state of the human condition, but I do have to confess to feeling that most of the people I meet in 'real life' I would rather not have to talk to, and therefore have to pretend to like them, in order to not come across any more of an arrogant self serving bastard than I probably do already. In my 'cyber life' I can freely ignore, be invisible to, or delete, people I don't really want to be bothered with. (If you are a cyber friend of mine and are reading this, then you know that I really want you on my 'list' or otherwise, you wouldn't be - take comfort. I am inordinately fussy).
All of this time online, desperately trying to get back to the point, does in my case, mean that I don't get any of the things done that I might otherwise do with my evenings. The same would be true of the Television, that evil box in the corner of my front room, that makes me, (it does make me) turn it on the minute I get home, and then sit in a near vegetative state, searching for something to watch, bemoaning that 'there's nothing on' - despite the near infinite number of channels - but still sitting there with the damn thing on. In case I miss something important.
Important ? Like what ? The end of western civilisation ? The discovery of a black hole in an underground French research facility ? Would I not get to know about these things some other way, at some other point ? I'm pretty sure on September 11th 2001, I wasn't say at my Television all morning 'just in case' something significant happened. As it was, I was out, with my then wife, and my daughter. We returned home to have one of her relatives telephone us, to say that 'America's under attack' - to which I think my reply was 'don't be stupid'. How stupid did I look, saying that to a mother frantically worried about her son (who was in America at the time) ?
Had I been online, I guess I would have known instantly. Had I had a Twitter account then, I would have - had I also had mobile internets - seen the number of tweets about it. So I guess I would have known sooner, but again, how would that have changed the outcome ? Pivotal and unimaginable as the events of that day were, I'm pretty sure they had it covered without me.
So what is this desire to know everything that is happening, at the time that it is happening ? And what of the irony that by being at a computer, at home, you might actually miss, well, being at something where something happens ? Is it turning us all into remote observers ?
Do we no longer participate in life ?
One of the comment on the website remarks that perhaps we are all too scared to go out and really do things... I think copying and pasting would be easier than paraphrasing...
The church in all its disguises along with government and minority groups have made sure that its breaking some law or other to even get close to another human being without paying a tax,fine or be imprisoned.Its no wonder people feel safe in their own homes locked away from all the danger the "outside"has become.The internet is communicating where at least your in control without spies(for the present).
Steve Grant, ipswich, United Kingdom
Hmm. There's a point there too. Goes back to the thing about 'how many kids play in the street anymore'. Not many at all. When I was a kid, which wasn't all that long ago (depending on your perspective) my sister and I both played in the street. I used to go out cycling with my friends, (and naturally go to places I had been told I wasn't allowed to go). No harm ever came of us. I feel very sorry for the kids of today that aren't allowed to go to the park on their own, or aren't allowed to spend any time at all on their own. If you are never left to your own devices, you never learn how to occupy yourself. The constant presence of a parent leaves them responsible for finding things to do all the time. My parents never did that. As a child, I prefered to spend time alone, I would be in my room playing with Lego (don't get me started on the benefits of Lego) or reading, or playing in the garden with my Action Men, or going for a ride on my bike. Instead kids today, seem to think that everything in the universe centres around a NIntendo DS..or which mobile phone they have, or fighting over who gets to use the Wii fit, to simulate cycling, or running, or tennis.... is it just me, or why not turn the damn thing off and go get a bat and ball and learn hand eye co-ordination the old fashioned (actual) way, but doing it for real ?
One of my friends and I used to play a lot of tennis together in the summer. About when everyone else was watching Wimbledon, we would be down at the local tennis courts, playing tennis. I was never that good, he was always more athletic and physical than me. But I still had a great time. Best of all it was free (until someone that actually had paid to use the tennis court turned up).
I love the internet, for the tool that it is, and I think that it does help in many ways. It does also provide many distractions from actual life. Which I think is sad. There is something in the fact that we are losing the ability to converse with strangers, that we don't know how to read mood and body language, you can see it all over the streets when you go out. People don't make eye contact for fear of offending, everyone walks around in their own little bubble, shutting off the world by texting to someone, drowning it out by listening to music in their earphones.
The less we speak to people, and learn to accept that there's a little bit of annoyance, and inconvenience about life that just has to be tolerated, the less we are able to judge when people are really deliberately being a pain. We have no scale upon which to judge these social infractions. I'm convinced that this leads to misunderstandings and in some occasions, even conflict.
I used to wonder why I never realised that I had perhaps unintentionally offended people with a remark I had made. At one point I understood that my lack of understanding wasn't born out of the fact that I was a bad person, or that the other pary was overly sensitive, but rather that I had this tendency to not look at the person while I was saying these things. It meant that I lost the chance to read their reaction, and tailor further comments accordingly, or even apologise for overstepping the line. Something as simple as that, seems to be more and more common. And as a species, our frustration leads us to be less and less measured in our responses.
We are creating a society of bored, frustrated, intolerant, misunderstood, angry people. So frustrated are they that some find they are quick to temper. So frightened are we, and so lacking in true, real friends that actually are there, that no one says 'hang on a minute, calm down mate, he only meant.....'.
Social networking is a great tool, and a great thing to have in our armoury. But like any tool, the real skill is in its application, and that comes from the person using it. A pot of paint and a paintbrush can be used to paint the side of the house, or can be used to paint a beautiful picture (ok, maybe more than one colour), or it can be used to paint graffiti, or insults. It's not the fault of the paintbrush that its used to describe that 'sharon is a slag'.
I do genuinely worry that we are headed for a society where we never speak to each other, except on line. I find myself doing it, having lengthy conversations in Facebook chat, when really, I could just pick up one of my phones and speak to the person. You know, like wow ! Speaking in real-time ! Yes. It's called a conversation. With my love of Skype, and my mobile phone, there is nothing stopping me talking to anyone, anywhere in the world. It is only laziness that prevents it.
I'm coming out as if I am on the Arch Bishop's side of the argument, but my own actions show otherwise. I can't sit here and type about the evils of people spending too much time on their computers, because I am.. well.. at my computer....
Perhaps the organised religions of the world should use Facebook, and Twitter to communicate more readily with their respective masses. Perhaps 'God Tweets' are the next big thing. Before someone starts writing an application that lets you tweet in your prayers (I bet someone has already done it though) I have one last point to make.
No one went to war with someone because of the internet. Well, not yet anyway.