Technology’s Role in the Quality of Social Interaction

 Few can argue that technological advances haven’t made their lives easier or more efficient in some way. But where social interaction is concerned, some are not so sure. Even though tools like social media have the mandate of allowing us to nurture existing relationships or create new connections, there is also evidence that this type of communication can reduce the quality of human interaction and, ironically, result in less frequent communication.

Vision and Reality

According to some, there is a great difference between the ideals of using technology to interact, and the reality of its effect on socialization. Those optimistic about technology’s role in social interaction say that technology creates a ‘knowledge society’ where everything is connected, and anyone can continue their participation from anywhere they happen to be, even when they are physically absent. And what could be better than that?

Unfortunately, it’s not the reality. Also called the ‘pessimistic view on technology and socialization’, this camp says that technology does the opposite for socialization. Instead of bringing people together, technology actually puts a focus on isolation and disconnection, which manifests itself as just that. People become more interested in the features and information provided by their personal devices than in the goings on of the real world. Not only that, but they also have the freedom to choose only that information which appeals to them, which results in an ‘ignorance society’.

The Evidence of Ignorance?

A study indicated that people interact socially online for two reasons: as a coping mechanism, and to escape. Those who needed support from family and friends would often turn to social networking sites to seek relief. And when they wanted to be entertained, participants turned to other areas of the web like video and music sites.

Reports of accidents involving drivers distracted by their cell phones, pedestrians texting as they walk and fatalities resulting from inattention to the ‘real world’ due to technological distraction are now commonplace, which could count as evidence toward the pessimistic view of technology on society.

One news story offered a different spin on how technology, or the lack thereof, affected at least one member of the human race. And it opened the eyes of many.

The Amish Project

During three months at the end of 2011, Jake P. Reilly, a copywriting student decided to see whether it was possible to live without the technological conveniences we enjoy today. In an unprecedented ‘unplugging’, Reilly swore off texting, emailing, cell phone and social media interaction in what he named “The Amish Project”. His reason for doing so was because he felt that we weren’t spending enough quality time with the people we care about.

Reilly’s intriguing social experiment revealed some very interesting details about his relationships. Not only did he discover that those he considered to be close friends weren’t as close as he thought, but he also created new ways to communicate and was able to revive a romantic relationship.

Instead of texting or emailing, Reilly relied on hand-written messages to connect with those in his life. Form visiting a friend’s house on his bike to chat face-to-face, to turning his school’s cork board into a slew of interesting and often humorous messages, Reilly was able to rediscover the true connection between human beings, and also realized the impact that technology is having on us from an ‘unplugged’ standpoint.

Asking Ourselves Why

One question we might ask ourselves when trying to discern whether technology is having a positive or negative impact on our social interactions is why we use that technology. For those who use the internet, it was discovered that they do so for two reasons; either as a coping mechanism, or to escape.

Those looking for some kind of emotional support were found to turn to social networks first, as that was where friends and family were located. Those needing entertainment turned to the online world by visiting resources like video and music sites. But can those voids be filled just as adequately or better with real-world interactions?

Regardless of whether you’re on the visionary or reality side of things, one fact remains clear: that the decision to use or not use technology is a choice that only the individual can make.


Guest author Ruth Suelemente enjoys writing on a variety of topics, particularly in the area of technology.  You can check out some of her work at the ISP Watchdog.