The first world’s shift towards interacting more and more with devices rather than people has had some awful consequences which we must now learn to curb. Young children are spending hours on their tablets instead of being occupied by a parent or peer. A device is something one has complete control over, if something disturbs you, you can close the window, app, or turn the device off. You can find graphic sexual content and violent content abundantly and fantasize about sex and violence to your heart’s content. This control over, objectification of, and trivialization of, the most intimate and horrible acts a person can commit has somehow failed to translate into increased sexual and violent crime rates in the United States over the last two decades, however the media’s bias towards such stories has not made this seem the case to the average citizen. Fortunately, despite technology’s negative influences, the world is not going to hell. This isn’t to say that the full impact of consumer technology has been realized yet–and there are some crucial differences in the ways people interact with devices as opposed to the ways they interact with other people.
A device cannot judge you, laugh at you, call you names–but it can be a vehicle to show you other people doing so. The layer of protection, whether distance or anonymity brings out the worst in people. People behave badly online with little or no repercussions most of the time. If someone said something about you in person, you could confront them and preserve your self-esteem. Doing so online becomes a strange proxy battle so removed from reality that both sides will make outrageous threats and statements that escalate the situation beyond its original import. It is how we interact with other people that is most important, but how we use technology throughout our lives influences this. Who hasn’t went on social media to see a friend or acquaintance posting about doing something enjoyable and instead of feeling glad for them, felt envious or disappointed with how they spent their own afternoon? Technology has the power to influence how human beings interact with each other, partially because spending so much time engrossed in technology, especially as children, keeps us from learning how to handle certain types of interpersonal interactions. Some have theorized this is why there is such a focus on bullying in the education system and that this technology has coincided with the 2010s phenomena of political correctness and people very easily offended–“snowflakes.” Now are these phenomena also perhaps indicative of an enhanced understanding of and compassion for the plights of others? Are they as author Tony Robbins asserted more a result of an inclination towards “victimhood?” Clearly it required a combination of these reasons for the phenomena to arise. But then is technology only a potentially hazardous influence? Or might it actually be able to improve interactions between people in certain cases?
Of course technology connects us with others over long distances, but are these relationships significant or merely hollow shadows of what they would be if the people were able to interact face-to-face? Things such as Skype and FaceTime allow the next best thing to this sort of interaction which have no doubt helped, for example, military people stay connected to loved ones at home. But are these really any more intimate than a telephone call–a technology which has been widely available since the early 20th century? The argument could be made that they are since they allow one to see another’s facial expression, but tone, volume, and cadence of voice can give one a pretty good idea of another’s expression. Technology does allow one to translate much more easily than they could before with a phrase book in hand, and this is one way it facilitates an interaction between people. Perhaps these are two instances in which technology has actually improved an interaction between people, but much more often, technology is used as a replacement for interaction as opposed to an enhancement of one.
I don’t think the evidence supports the notion that technology’s influence has been or will continue to be primarily negative in regards to human interaction, but in the scheme of things it really hasn’t been around long enough to be sure. I won’t attempt to speculate as to why violent and sexual crime rates are dropping in the United States aside from suggesting that it may be the fact that the country has the highest percentage of its population incarcerated in the world. According to the BBC, violent and sex crime rates in England and Wales rose significantly over the past year. Other first world nations may not be enjoying the same reduction in these crime rates as the U.S. is. Time will tell how technology is impacting us behaviorally and psychologically, as technology races ahead to complicate the analysis.