If we were told 100 years ago that we would be able to send little packages of information through cyber space faster than the speed of sound, we would have thought the whole idea was ridiculous. We had some ideas of how technology would revolutionize everything, but not to the extent of which we see it today. Technology is growing and changing faster than we have time to comprehend and catch up with it. I remember the simpler times growing up as a little boy in Zambia when we only had one broadcasting station for TV and two local radio channels. Some of my fondest memories were when we gathered around the radio, and we would listen to songs, the news, story tellers, and skits that captivated our imagination. The news was told like it happened and without experts throwing around their opinions – it was simply information and the listener was free to come up with his/her own conclusions. We had social gatherings which were face-to-face conversations and interactions. For many who did not have a home telephone, the only mode of distant communication was through word of mouth, snail mail, or telegraph.
The last 20 plus years has seen a rapid increase in technology. The race to personalize products for individual consumers is on. It’s now all about your life, your happiness, your device, your personal computer, your profile, your timeline; you can’t live without your social media or electronics. Companies like Apple have come up with clever ways of naming and marketing their products – iPhone, iPad, iTouch, iPod, I this, I that. You are the center of attention and it’s all about you. Thousands of apps are developed everyday for almost anything we can dream of. Some tech companies have even hired psychologists who study consumer behaviors so products they develop will resonate with buyers. Google and Facebook have developed complex algorithms to track browsing habits of their users so they can create personalized ads and suggest information they think users wants to see — creating a digital bubble.
Is the advancement in networking and communication bringing our world together or creating a virtual wedge between us?
From the palm of our hands, we are able to get in touch with family and friends everywhere anytime; get the latest news of what is happening around the world from TV, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. GPS enabled smart devices help friends or potential enemies track our every move. We have developed technology that syncs to every device we own, providing us with information we want from any place with internet connection. The world is getting smaller and smaller everyday – we can travel around the globe through cyber space in seconds. Even remote places in the world are getting connected through the use of battery powered cell phones. I saw an article a few years back in the National Geographic magazine with a picture of a young man in one of Congo’s rainforests climbing a tree to look for a cell phone signal. Technology will continue to change our way of life, and there is no going back unless some technological catastrophic event happens.
Most of our interactions are done online nowadays. Take for example, our smart phones. We think we cannot live without them. The first thing I check in the morning is my phone, going through my emails and social media. And before I go to bed? Well, you guessed it; I’m on my phone. It’s addicting, and we are becoming more and more uncomfortable interacting with people in person than online.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with using technology or social media. I am very thankful for the internet and websites such as Facebook which has made it possible for me to connect with people I lost touch with, and staying connected with family and friends around the world. The affects of social media are not limited to just our personal lives. Like in Egypt. Tired of political upheaval, the people connected through social media and organized demonstrations against tyranny that eventually toppled their dictator. A lot of injustice has been exposed. Organizations that help others have had a big boost. Great talents have emerged out of social media. And the list continues.
While the internet has connected people, improved business transactions, and made it easier to research, it is also a source of false information, a virtual highway for predators, and has created a pseudo reality for many. Many online communities have emerged where people interact with each other through chat rooms, gaming, and video conferencing. For the most part, these are great opportunities to meet others who share similar interests. But we can become consumed with the virtual world, and neglect our responsibilities and the people around us.
Remember the story of the teenage boy who died playing online games for more than 24 hours without taking breaks? He did not want to give up his winning streak but ended up losing more than the game – his life. This troubles me greatly. His sad story illustrates the reality of how addicting the internet can be. We can be locked up in a virtual world such that the real one becomes boring. Unfortunately, many young and adult alike have a hard time separating between the reality and fantasy. This has brought a lot of grief to families. People have even lost jobs and have had relationships torn apart.
And the damage is mounting. We see young kids who lack adult supervision getting sucked into the digital bubble. Our kids are more vulnerable to potentially harmful information on the internet or online predators now than in the past few years. They are bombarded with garbage and information overload from TV and the internet. They face a greater challenge interacting with peers than we did growing up.
The digital bubble has created a false sense of friendship by making us feel we are connected with a lot of people, yet we are not. Divisions have derived from us posting our feelings and our frustrations about people we don’t agree with, and sometimes we say things that are hurtful without caring who will read them. The name calling. The fear mongering. The political bashing. Some of us are out to create controversy by posting things that stir up heated arguments. All for what?
We need face to face human interaction; a time to go eat out with friends or family. My wife and I have enjoyed spontaneous outing with dear friends; playing games and just plain old fashion face to face conversations. Building friendships that goes beyond the superficial. Building relationships that matters – all done outside the digital bubble.
So, how do you get away from this digital bubble and connect with people on a more personal level? Maybe sharing here can help us all find ways of turning off our smart devices and spending precious time with friends and family.