Tech Task #2 – Requiem for Authentic Relationships

21 Jan

Apple Aluminum Keyboard by jgarber

Are there potential negative consequences on physical relationships when living in a computer-mediated social landscape? What might be some critical areas to think about in this regard? What might be some warning signs of too much time spent in virtual spaces?                                                        

When people ask me why I quit Facebook 3 years ago my answer is fairly simple: I believe that Facebook is signalling the death of authentic relationships. The people questioning me respond the same without fail, “Well I like Facebook because it helps me to stay in touch with people.”

I think that Facebook is actually an excuse to not stay in touch with people.

Since when did lurking around online profiles, viewing people’s pictures and responding to status updates become “staying in touch?”

Authentic relationships are those that require an investment, whether the investment is writing out and mailing a postcard, driving to a coffee shop, picking up the phone and dialing, heck, at this point I’d even say that signing into hotmail and typing out an email would fall under this category. So many of our relationships today blatantly avoid the investment.

I fear for the generations to come. I’ve been out of high school for nearly 10 years now and the technological change that has taken place in students in that time is palpable. I’m reminded of a book I read a few years back called “The Third Policeman”….in this book several characters are obsessed with their bicycles. The result of this obsessive bicycle riding is that the bicycles become more and more like men and men become more and more like bicycles. When I look around at youth today and see them plugged into multiple pieces of technology I can’t help but think of those poor bicycle men. In building involved relationships with inanimate objects we in turn devote more and more of our lives to becoming inanimate as well.

So what is the result of all of this? I forecast an immense loss of culture in our already nearly cultureless society. Books will soon become obsolete, albums will only be available online, art galleries will simply be a collection of screens for us to stare at (because we won’t already be doing that enough.) 

As a teacher I don’t want my students to fall behind in technology as that is “the future”. I do, however, want my students to read books, to learn how to use pencils and erasers, and most importantly to utilize and foster their imaginations.

I am passionate about people; talking to them, sitting in silence with them, just being with them without the distraction of texting and tweets. I guarantee that by devoting less of our time to inanimate objects facading as “friends” we will all become better disposed to being real life friends in the authentic relationships around us.


12 Responses to “Tech Task #2 – Requiem for Authentic Relationships”

  1. Adamann January 22, 2011 at 4:21 am #

    Adam Mann likes this.

  2. Adamann January 22, 2011 at 4:22 am #

    OH! Uh…. oops.

    Damn habits…

    This is a pretty radical article Emily! Especially the Third Policeman bicycle reference!

    Keep up the great work!
    God bless!

  3. Alec Couros January 24, 2011 at 1:48 am #

    Thanks for your post. Just a quick question. How would you define “authentic”?

  4. Michelle Baldwin January 24, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate for you, just to give you some more food for thought.

    1)For those people with whom I have close, personal relationships, Facebook is one of only MANY ways in which I communicate and spend time with them. In fact, it’s probably the least used method. I spend a LOT of time with my family and close personal friends – in person, on the phone, etc.

    2)For those people who are my friends but live too far away for me to stay in constant communication, Facebook has helped us share day-to-day moments. Important things- we talk about on the phone. Daily, but nice to know, things are communicated over Facebook. When we see each other in person, it takes less time to “catch up,” and we can spend more time talking about things we want to do together.

    3)Do you think it’s important for your students to know how to sharpen their own quill and manufacture their own ink? Those were very important skills that students needed to know in order to be successful, until the inventions of the pen and pencil. Would you want to continue to emphasize the importance of a pencil and an eraser over a keyboard and a word processor?

    These are just ideas to think about. I don’t think that students will stop reading books. The books might just look different than they do now. Are the physical properties of a book the most important part of the process, or is it the reading?

    By the way, I’m 42 years old. I’ve been out of high school for almost 25 years, and the kids I see around me are PARTICIPATING in their “culture” (playing in symphonies, creating art for museums, programming software, etc.) rather than observing it. That makes me immensely happy.

  5. delorman January 24, 2011 at 2:32 am #

    I really like what you had to say in this post. It definitely gave me something to think about. I agree with you that while technology is a big part of our future, it is definitely important to learn the pen and paper way of doing things to. Technology has its place but if overused could lose its value.

  6. Jabiz Raisdana (Intrepidteacher) January 24, 2011 at 2:44 am #

    Great post. I think it is so important that as teachers, or aspiring teachers we look at the issues of sociability and online life carefully. It is so easy to be swept up by the hysteria of the ever-progressive technology, but it is just as easy to bury our head in the sand and cry Luddite.

    I have the following quote up in my classroom:

    Criticize the tools you use and use the tools you criticize.

    I fluctuate between two, trying to find my balance. I think that is key. To discredit Facebook is a mistake. People use different tools to be social in different ways with different people. While your f2f chat or postcard might work for you, following a birth through FB statuses might be effective for someone else.

    You are on the right track to be cautious, but don’t let your caution disallow you to discover some pretty amazing relationships.

    Here some more thoughts:

    Come find me. Let;s talk.

  7. Ed January 24, 2011 at 3:19 am #

    AMEN!!! Excellent article and point of view.

    I abhor the fact that friends even show up at my door and rather than buzzing my apt, they text me to let me know they are here!! I don’t answer those and they have learned that they might have to actually phone me when we are making plans. I have a facebook page but it is only for people whom I have met while travelling or friends who moved away. I worked at a local filmfest here in Vancouver and at the volunteer party met a woman from Turkey where I had just spent 3 weeks. We yakked and chatted for hours. When I left she asked me if I was one facebook. When I said no, her response was “oh. well, it was nice meeting you”. I howled!!! As I have long thought, FB is a way to pretend to be in touch without actually having to commit. Ambient intimacy is an artificial sentiment. As people become more connected, they become less connected.

  8. Carol Skyring January 24, 2011 at 3:37 am #

    Some interesting thoughts Emily – some of them echo what my mother often laments!!! Like anything in life – things are best in moderation. If Facebook (or any other form of social media) is the only way one communicates with friends – then help is needed. However, I think most people meet face-to-face with friends on a regular basis and use social media to stay in touch with close and not so close friends/colleagues. It also allows you to meet people who you would not otherwise come in contact with. From a teaching & learning perspective, social media provides untold opportunities for students to interact with others around the world.

    I would argue that viewing people’s pictures and responding to status updates IS staying in touch. It certainly allows me to stay in touch with people I would not have any contact with if it weren’t for social media.

    As to books becoming obsolete – good…think how many trees will be saved. Now if reading were to become obsolete then we would have something to worry about. But I think digital reading provides a media rich environment that can extend thinking and learning.

    As to albums being available only online – again good….think how many non-renewable resources will be saved. And how many musicians would have remained unheard if it wasn’t for new technologies enabling them to get their music to the world?

    As to only experiencing art galleries on screen – that is a major worry and I wouldn’t like that to happen. However, I think it’s a wonderful way for those in other towns, regions or countries to see art they would otherwise not get to see.

    I applaud your concern for your students. However, they’ll be reading in a different way, have little use for pencils and erasers, and will be utilising their imaginations in a different way. Kids can now use their imaginations to create music, stories and videos in 3D using computers & software AND present them to a worldwide audience. I think this is a great thing.

    Our world, and society, has changed & evolved for thousands of years – and technology has often been at the forefront of this. Teaching & learning plays a pivotal role in this evolution. One of the most important things you can teach your students is to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the various technologies they will encounter. With this skill they can evaluate and utilise technologies well throughout their lives.

    Yes there are downsides to online communication, but on the whole, I think there are more upsides. And I’d much rather be on Facebook than still using a stone tablet. (And just think….if it wasn’t for social media we wouldn’t be exchanging ideas at all.) 🙂

  9. S.G. January 24, 2011 at 4:18 am #

    I’ve never quite understood the policing action taken by people who have left Facebook. I understand why you didn’t find value in it, but if others do, why not leave them in peace?

    I question the either/or dichotomy your post sets up. It’s not as if every postcard sent or phone call made is entirely authentic. Even face-to-face contact can be pretty inauthentic at times. I use every hipster you met at a coffee shop as a counter example to the joys of face-to-face contact.

    Furthermore, I have received and given book recommendations through Facebook. I’ve viewed art from galleries that I don’t have an opportunity to see personally. I read books daily and spend 15 minutes a day on Facebook. No one is forcing anyone to spend hours at a time on there. I ask again, why does it have to be either social networking or a love of culture? The New Yorker may have you believe its one or the other, but I see many people, simply by living their lives, show otherwise.

    Lastly, if electronic communication is so alienating, so inauthentic, then what should I think about this blog post? Didn’t you feel pretty authentic writing it?

    • Emily Mann January 24, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

      I definitely appreciate your comment. I had sort of hoped that this post wouldn’t seem like me trash talking facebook users and/or technology as a whole. I never intended this post to be a mass judgement. Admittedly I spend a lot of time checking email, on skype, etc. I by no means think that I am any better than anyone else in regards to technology use. The things I wrote were meant to simply be possible “eye openers” not only for those that may happen upon the post but for myself as well. Thanks again for the comment! It’s encouraging to know that people are actually reading this. Regarding your question as to whether I felt authentic when writing this post: the answer is “no”. I struggle with having to maintain a blog, mostly because I don’t like the inner disconnect I feel in having a piece of me floating around on the web for people to read, judge and criticize at will.
      Pax, EM.

  10. Cori Saas January 24, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about social networks, specifically FB. I’m a senior High School teacher and my kids and I love FB. I don’t see networking as the future, I see it as now, I see it as the language of my students.

    Recently one of my kids journaled (yes, using that good old method of pen and paper) that she didn’t feel loved. And my response, for the first time, flip on the interactive white board and share one of my blog posts. My point, posts are global-like FB, they are my digital footprint. I’d written the post about two former students who’d lost their mom over winter break. I’d blogged about how much I love all students, past and present. My student cried, I cried, we chatted for an hour and then I walked with her to her locker and then to the door. If anything social networks are deeply intimate.

    Take a minute and look at what our kids post, I mean really post. The quotes, the poems, even the words in anger as they begin to learn the power of foot-printing – it’s all about the deepest of connections – it’s about connecting with others, and about connecting to ourselves.

    About two months ago I sat at student-led conferences while a student and his parents asked to set up a FB page for our class to follow while the family trekked for four months. Now my kids log into FB at the beginning of almost every day. Honestly, as much as I ask kids to text questions, or email questions, kids love sending FB messages. Friday, two former students stopped by my house asking if I had read the stories they’d sent – stories sent via FB. My kids and I no longer see these networks as superficial social stops, but as critical learning and family bonding networks. It’s one heck of a well worth it shift.

  11. David February 3, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    Your post was recommended to me by a friend. I have to say I completely agree with you – very astute observation and concise summary of where tools like Facebook can take us. I do not have nor have I ever had a Facebook account – it just never interested me. Similarly Twitter, MySpace or any of the other predecessors. I find that actually connecting with people using one’s voice or actually composing complete thoughts (whether on paper or in email) is far more engaging and human than simply popping updates on a screen. Facebook et al. are tools and as such can be useful (one other commenter pointed that out) and situations such as the uprisings in Iran & Egypt or the earthquake in Haiti show that these tools can have their usefulness. But when they are chosen as the default or primary method of communication, then I believe we lose much of what it means to truly interact and connect as human beings. I recall my nephew (a teen in the ’90s) being utterly mystified at my suggestion to go outside in the summer to find amusement & fun; he was immersed in computers and video games. When I finally got him to go outside with me and play something as simple as “hide and seek” with some neighbourhood kids, it was like he had discovered a new country! He had no idea a person could have so much fun without a screen in front of him/her. And that was almost 20 years ago – what would the youth of today be like? Granted not all of them are device-addicted (as has also been pointed out) but I believe far too many youth AND adults are slipping into that mode and that should give us all some trepidation about the future.
    Thanks for your insights! Please continue to share them!

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