8: Disconnected

The author goes on a bit of a ramble about his use of communication technology to "connect" with other people.

Raised in a restrictive family, his mother insisted he come straight home after school and wasn't able to socialize much with his schoolmates, so being able to log into online services enabled him to chat with his friends while being physically at home. Online chat became a way for him to interact with people he couldn't meet in real life, but also to communicate with people he did meet, and to establish contact online with people he would later meet. Most of his relationships were "rooted in online conversations."

After a particularly disastrous relationship with a woman who turned out to be quite different in person than she seemed to be online, the author "disconnected" from online interaction and sought to deal with people through more immediate means: meeting in person, talking on a telephone. He regarded this as an "experiment" to see if connecting with people through more direct means would be more fulfilling. Similar experiments have been done on the same subject - the University of Maryland, for example, challenged 200 students to completely give up media, and the results are similar to the author's personal experience: the online medium had become their channel for connecting to others, and they felt isolated and lost without it.

Always Connected

The need people feel to remain constantly connected is evident in problems such as texting while driving. In one study, 83% of respondents believe it was dangerous to text while driving, and 98% admitted doing it anyway. Though most of them found different ways to justify their behavior (they do it at stop lights, not in heavy traffic, etc.), the clear indication is that benign connected is highly important to them, enough to risk their immediate physical safety.

From a psychological perspective, the need to communicate by any means fulfills basic needs to feel socially connected to others. Using social media feeds that need for connectedness, but it also habituates a person to being able to connect with increasing frequency - and once they become accustomed to frequently connecting, it causes some degree of anxiety to be "parted" from others for even a short amount of time.

There is also the factor of peer pressure: studies have shown that people seek to conform to the behavior of others - experiments in which a subject would give the same answers as other people in the same group, even if they knew them to be false, were duplicated online, and it is suggested that subjects felt a greater degree of ostracism or isolation when they gave different answers than the rest of the group (who were actors instructed to give different answers than the subject).

(EN The author doesn't explain this, but text communication lacks the ability to use body language or tone of voice that is generally employed to communicate that a disagreement is "nothing personal," which is why online arguments become more inflamed than in-person discussions.)

Ultimately, people who interact with other online reinforce the frequency with which they use the medium: a person sends a message, the recipient responds, they respond to the response, and so on - the conversation does not trail off as easily as it does in other media, as there is no nonverbal way to signal that the speaker doesn't require a response.

False Pretenses

There's a running aside about the way in which people online pretend to be someone they're not, seldom out of malice or an intent to deceive others in any important way, but just for the fun of role-playing as a persona. With the emergence of social media, this practice has been frowned upon, and people expect that the personas they meet online to be a realistic expression of the people who operate them.

Even so, it's still common practice for people to be slightly masked. It's not uncommon for a person to maintain a number of different Facebook accounts, tailoring their profile and messages to the people with whom they interact. This, too, is not disingenuous, nor is it much different than in real life: people behave differently around professional colleagues, member of their own family, and casual friends.

Life Hacking

The practice of "Life Hacking" refers to a movement away from technology, as a means of improving their quality of life. One particular article, from 1999, idealizes the idyllic lifestyle of the Amish - though on closer inspection, the Amish are not quite as pastoral as commonly believed.

While they seek to adhere to the tenets of their culture, they can be quite ingenious in working around them: they may shun electricity in their homes but use it in the workplace (though one ingenious example is to use compressed air to power household appliances, a non-Amish being hired to use a generator to fill the tank); they may not own a car but ride in a taxi or a bus; or they may justify breaking from the traditional prohibition (some Amish have cell phones, ostensibly for use in emergencies). Ultimately, it can be said that the Amish do not shun technology, but are very judicious in their use of it. They do not use technology simply because it exists. If a given technology has a direct and practical purpose - and if it does, they find a way to take advantage of it.

This may serve as a model for the general population: to become completely unplugged isn't practical, but being more judicious in our use of technology might help to recognize and reduce the degree to which we use it in ways that are harmful, or at least wasteful. This is compared to dieting: it is not necessary to completely stop eating food, just to be more judicious in what we eat, in terms of quantity, quality, and time, to ensure that we restore a healthy balance.

The author goes to suggest methods for reducing our dependence - scheduling set times to use media, other times in which to refrain, considering matters of etiquette, teaching children to limit their use of media, etc.