So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.
Barbara L. Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, The New York Times. Your Phone or Your Heart?
Fredrickson poses a horrifying dilemma to the touch-screen generation: your phone or your heart. The more time we spend “bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else,” Fredrickson argues, the more our biological ability to engage in “the world of real social encounters” withers away. In other words, with every <3 we type, we </3 a little inside.
Fredrickson came to this conclusion after conducting an experiment that tested how learning skills can affect a person’s capacity to connect with other humans.
Via The New York Times:
Half the participants, chosen at random, attended a six-week workshop on an ancient mind-training practice known as metta, or “lovingkindness,” that teaches participants to develop more warmth and tenderness toward themselves and others.
Frederickson concluded that mediators felt more socially connected and that their vagal tone was “altered.”
(Vagal tone background info: Your brain and the vagus nerve are connected. The stronger your vagal tone, the stronger the connection between the vagus nerve and the brain — meaning your body can better regulate itself internally.)
So people who engage in some new-age exercises enjoy some pretty trippy results. What does that have to do with your phone? Nothing, because Fredrickson didn’t enroll anyone in an iPhone-only lovingkindness regimen to compare vagal readings with the IRL set. She just assumes virtual communication is inherently less connected, friendly, and empathetic than the alternative.
Even though Frederickson says technological communication is diminishing our capacity to “<3” each other in real life, she also notes that the human body and its behaviors are “far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize.”
If human potential is so plastic or amenable, then can we assume that our vagal tone could evolve to work with tech communication? According to Slate’s Amanda Hess, it already has.
The more we flex our thumbs, the more satisfying the emotional rewards. Just the other day, a wave of good feeling rolled through two brains and bodies at once as [my friend] Nathan and I traded jokes about op-ed writers with a scientifically unsupportable fetish for the IRL. If Fredrickson can’t see the human potential of the online friendship, maybe it’s because she hasn’t been looking hard enough.
So, with such differing opinions and no real evidence that people become less or more empathetic with digital communication, whose side are we to take? Social media theorist, Nathan Jurgenson suggests: neither.
Via Society Pages:
I am proposing an alternative view that states that our reality is both technological and organic, both digital and physical, all at once. We are not crossing in and out of separate digital and physical realities, ala The Matrix, but instead live in one reality, one that is augmented by atoms and bits. And our selves are not separated across these two spheres as some dualistic “first” and “second” self, but is instead an augmented self.
Healthy human communication can occur through digital communication AND face-to-face conversation. Yeah? Cool.
FJP: Some of my longest, deepest conversations have happened through a cell phone or an IM window. I’ve spent more than half of my 23 years communicating digitally rather than face to face. Oh my God — I knew I felt more apathetic and cyborg-ish than I did as a child. Now I know why. Now, step aside and allow me to destroy your humanity, one evil “LOL” at a time. — Krissy
Apparently you called on the phone and said something like “Meet me at the corner of 33rd and R Street in Georgetown and we’ll go to that bar.” And then people just did it. We were so trusting that we actually just had to trust that people would show up. Back then, there was no way to back out of engaging in human interaction and human affairs.
A good read on technology and loneliness and communication and dating from a 30-something-year-old (this guy) for Thought Catalog, which is a website that, if you are a city-person in America in your twenties, you should read, so that you, like me, feel more part of a generation/community/space and less like a lost soul in the big bad world that’s being overrun by technology.—Jihii
Bonus: Some other thoughts on loneliness and technology from the FJP archives.
Media companies that expect to dominate in the future will need to add technology as a core competency. Making the transition from editorial and ad-sales / subscription competency to digital competency will require companies to attract all-star tech talent, a task easier said than done.
Digiday explores the dilemma:
Now that publishers have gotten religion about tech’s front and center position, they’re left with a dilemma: How do they get the talent to run the systems? Leaving aside all the talk of tech at places like Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post and Gawker, it’s not so easy when the tech-minded are more likely to work for Google or the next big startup.
“There’s huge demand for good CTOs, but it’s not enticing,” said Jonah Peretti, CEO of Buzzfeed. “If you’re a good technologist, you can build your own company.”
”The media landscape is one of the most in-turmoil, rapidly changing industries out there now,” [says Paul Berry, former CTO of The Huffington Post]. “It’s at the intersection of everything that’s being disrupted.”
“Too many people outside of tech companies think of tech as being just an implementation of the business ideas or editorial ideas — not of something that’s creative,” said Peretti. In order to entice a good technologist, the tech team needs to be on equal footing with the editorial team, he added — something that would be unthinkable at most editorial organizations.
Reports on the media habits of Millennials, those “digital natives”, have given some the impression that young people never read newspapers. However, survey evidence stubbornly insists that they do.
It’s the heavy reading, though, that betrays their age: only 22% of millennials read the newspaper on a daily basis, as opposed to the 40% of all adults.
But the most interesting part? The prestige that comes with a heavy newspaper diet:
Heavy newspaper readers (groups I and II) are 75% more likely than light/non readers (groups IV and V) to hold a graduate degree. Heavy readers are also more than twice as likely to be considered “Influentials,” meaning people who participate in three or more public engagement activities every year (such as writing a letter to an elected official, running for public office, or attending a public meeting).
But that can’t mean that one needs to read the paper to be an important person in civic life. It just means that we’re in a shift, hopefully, which we all probably know already.
Just ask Scott M. Fulton:
The ongoing death of newspapers is not about changes in journalism, or the need for them. It is about a business model that has ceased to be relevant in the face of present technology.
FJP: Think LP vs. CD? Or, actually, CD vs. mp3.
“News just reads better on paper, man.”