Is the new media bad for us?


I often hear the argument about how new forms of media and communication slowly erode our social lives. Reliance on the Internet and phones, and a growing trend of web based community interactions replacing physical ones should make us sit up and take notice of the follies of it all.

Jack shit. Whoever argues in favor of these ideas is seriously underestimating the human spirit.

Over the past 10,000 years, humans have evolved into the social beings they are, for a reason. And mindsets that deep will take more than a couple of decades of technology invasion to irrevocably change. When cavemen sat down around campfires, huddling against beasts and the cold, the intent of conveying their innermost thoughts led to the birth of language. Story telling sessions even today, if you see tribes in India, Africa or wherever else they've managed to survive, continue in the same vein. In most modern cultures, pubs and cafes have taken over the campfire, but the setting is still the same - warmth, company and food. What the new media is doing is to get people closer to each other more than ever before - consider that in the span of one day, the average Internet user can talk to people sitting in any corner of the world, reinforcing ties, constructing new ones. If anything, that drive within all of us to interact with others for our own development is stronger than ever.

It also brings to light the fact that we haven't *stopped* caring for our fellow human being. Far from it. Constraints in time and space have but limited our abilities to do so - after all, lifestyles in the 21st century are agreeably different from what they were in the 15th.

Talking to a friend who does social work in India yesterday, I learned about the sudden suicide of a former prostitute diagnosed with AIDS who lived in a slum there. This was a person who my friend had conversed with, as part of the process initiated by certain NGOs to uplift them. Such nearness to death is never a good thing, but as we talked, we discussed her life of abuse and possible reasons for such a radical step. At one point, I thought it morbid of us to be analyzing such an event - but she retorted that we were merely being realistic. And thats true. Even ten years ago, not only would we not have conversed in such detail about something like this, but my own views on it would not have reached (what I hope is) a decent sized audience! :)

Recently, the top news in tech dominated silicon valley was the death of a popular c|net.com editor, James Kim, who died in the wilderness while on a mission to try and save his stranded family. After their car was snowed in, and conditions worsened, he left his family in cheerful spirits and tried to get help as quickly as possible. The fact that he and his wife did not respond to emails on a Monday morning started the alarm bells ringing. His wife and kids were rescued in good health, but James was tracked by rescuers for days, with live media coverage and instant reports of how the efforts were faring. Most people who talk about disproportionate attention to this process don't realize that every single person who read this piece of news somehow identified with the man, and wished him well, was concerned about him. The news about his fatal venture resulted in outpourings of grief by thousands who had never even met him or seen his work.

And if that isn't an example of how the web is bringing humanity closer to each other, I don't quite know what is.

What do *you* think?

7 comments:

Something to Say said...

I guess when people talk about not being in touch - they might mean as in physical contact. I mean after all - an email cannot replace the shoulder on which one cries over.

Having said that I think the communication revolution has happened simply because we cannot physically keep in touch with loved ones - or with those who share a similar philosophy as ours. So its a good stand-in - it cannot however replace being there in person.
And like all good things it must be in moderation. It must build bridges - where there is chasm - hubby and wifey staying in the same house should not need the help of the internet to talk to each other.
And I think thats what is being objected to.

No one minds the internet - when being in India, they can see their Yale studying son, every Sunday,over the internet. Do they?

Grafxgurl said...

i think my brain will die and i will turn catatonic without my internet! and Limewire!and Gutenberg! and IPOD Ebooks! and err.. ok never mind.


you get it.


Im on Lifesupport.

That Armchair Philosopher said...

@something - hmm, sure. I do agree things should be in moderation - your scenario of the hubby talking to missus dear through VOIP is stupid. In fact, I've had the problem with roomates, where you're just too lazy to walk across the hall and instead ping people on Yahoo or AIM or something! :)

And yes, thats a disadvantage too. You see, if it was phonecalls, it would be every sunday. But you know, if you're logged on to Yahoo and someone at home is too - then there's bound to be some communication almost every second day, which maybe a good thing or a bad thing hehe

@grafxgurl - join the club. I am (Was) almost as dependent on tech. Limewire - MAN, that rocks. ipod ebooks - hmm, never tried those but sounds intriguing. I had to actually a)go hiking in the wilderness in Utah for about 4 days, with proper camp tents and fires, and no tech and b)take a 2 week vacation in obscenely remote parts of the himalayas to reduce my dependence on anything with a PC link.

and I think I'm better off for it. try it sometime :)

Raindrop said...

I agree, technology doesn't change basic human nature. We're still as social as ever. The survival of one's tribe was important to one's own survival, hence the existence of altruistic tendencies. Tribes are now replaced by friends. And a large circle of friends can prove useful in finding a mate.

A perfect stranger is more likely now, than ever, to be at the receiving end of altruism.

Scritch said...

well, I don't know you yet I am here so I would have to agree with you.

This post also slightly counters your argument about online dating. The age has gone where using the internet was for the lonely, the isolated the needy and the seedy.

TS said...

Yesh yesh, offcossly.

Agree one hundred per cent!

That Armchair Philosopher said...

scritch - hmm, not sure if it really does counter my earlier comments about the online dating et al.

but yes, i see what you're getting at.