Does Our Hyper-Connected World Make People Socially Inept?

If someone would have given me an accurate description of today’s communication and information world back in, let us say, 1971, I would have told them that they should stop believing in science fiction novels. Back then there were no cell phones or the internet, although both communication technologies were in the pipeline in various degrees of research.

It would not have been reasonable to forecast our current communication landscape in 1971. Access to information was also limited. The best sources were countless daily newspapers and magazines. The French intelligentsia bought Le Monde and some quality magazines; others would get their news from thriving regional papers. France had only three TV channels which would only broadcast from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm, but quality news still belonged to a handful of government-financed radio broadcasters. Back then, if you wanted to make plans to get together with your friends, you would pick up the phone to make arrangements, or go directly to their regular cafes, knowing full well that any conversation from the previous day could get re-started.

The Cell Phone

Dr Martin Cooper, credited to be the inventor of the cell phone, made the first call on a portable cell phone in April 1973; however, it took another 10 years for the slow-moving Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to authorize commercial cellular service in the United States. The first device was a two-pound apparatus that would make anyone today burst out laughing. By 1987, cellular phone subscribers in the US exceeded one million.

The Internet

The Advanced Research Project Agency Network (ARAPANET), brought on line in 1969, was the first version of the Internet. The term Internet itself was only officially introduced in 1974. At first, the early network connected only four computers. The original version of the Internet was not intended for the public but for use by government contractors and universities on secret projects. Back then, the Internet was an extremely complex system that only scientists, engineers and highly skilled computer specialists could operate.

By 1984, a domain name system and a common computer language were created, allowing all computers on the network to communicate with each other. For seven more years, however, the Internet remained extremely challenging for the majority of people. The first friendly easy-to-use Internet interface was created at the University of Minnesota in 1991.

The two key components of the communication and information revolution are the cell phone and the Internet. They are the tools that keep us connected globally around the clock. They have dramatically change the way we communicate for business or personal reasons. They have also revolutionized the way we access news sources and democratized the entire knowledge of human kind. Anything about everything may be found at the click of a mouse or directly on our smart phone devices.

The Good Old Days of Real Socialization

Needless to say, before the Internet and the cell phone, there were no Facebooks friends or Twitter followers. Instead There were real friends or familiar faces who were game for lively conversations on many topics. This old-fashioned mode of communication had the merit of being real, in the flesh, as opposed to the one on so-called social network which are too often a way for people to get more isolated. There is, in fact, another side to this extraordinary progress that makes people of my generation somewhat nostalgic for the good old days.

Social Isolation

We have all witnessed this disturbing phenomenon, but perhaps it is more easily noticed by people like myself who belong to the transitional generation: it happens in classrooms, in boardrooms, and even during family dinners: people in their teens or early twenties, who grew up with cell phones permanently attached to their bodies, start to text, e-mail, or surf the web. It is as if the virtual world at their finger tip matters more to them than the real world of actual personal interactions. They are on Facebook, Twitter, and countless other social networks, yet when it comes to real face-to-face social contact with human beings, they are shy, clumsy, inept, as if trapped in their ever-shrinking communication devices. Now and then, it is a good idea to switch off your computer, stop texting, unplug yourself altogether from this brave new world of the technology revolution, seek real human contact in person, and learn the art of conversation again with your friends and family.



11 Responses to Does Our Hyper-Connected World Make People Socially Inept?

  1. Ashley June 5, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    I’m only in my mid-twenties and even I’m in the dark about the effect of this “hyper-connected world” is having on the social skills of those most immersed in it: teens. I’m not sure that’s caused them to be socially immature… But it is a problem.

  2. Mercurychyld June 5, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    I very much agree. It seems like, especially among the teens and 20-somethings, and even 30-somethings and over, it’s become a world of short handed codes and letters. Real face to face conversation, like good old fashioned letter writing…as in with pen and paper have slowly but surely gone the way of the dinosaur. It’s very healthy to ‘unplug’ oneself every so often, though I know it’s a CHALLENGE for most, especially these days, where, God forbid you don’t answer a call or text message during dinner, and actually make someone WAIT, oh my! The audacity of such a request, lol.

  3. Ole Ole Olson June 5, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Excellent take on this Gilbert.

  4. Liam June 5, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    I just came back from dinner and a movie with my 13 yr old daughter and her friend. I finally had to call time-out during dinner so that they would put their smart phones away. Barely 5 minutes into the movie, still during the previews, I catch screens lighting up out of the corner of my eye. It’s constant… endless. I think we’re going to see the next step in evolution with a gradual phasing out of vocal chords, chins will become directly fused with the chest from staring down at the screen, and two fingers on each hand will be replaced by additional thumbs to aid in faster texting. However, being the father of teenage girls, this may be safer than having them run into Gilbert at a cafe. 😉

  5. Randy June 6, 2011 at 6:08 am

    Just stumbled upon your article. Nice.

    I too am from the mid-50s. Growing up, I played in the woods, fell out of trees, got dirty, caught frogs -and let them go. The other day I saw someone about 12 years old who was texting while riding a bicycle. Glad I don’t have to explain that to grandpa.

    • Gilbert Mercier
      Gilbert Mercier June 6, 2011 at 6:23 am

      Indeed, Randy. I feel somewhat sorry for people growing up today, with this technology almost grafted to their skin. They are missing out on the simple joys of life that you and I enjoyed so much when we were that age.

  6. Brian June 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Compounding this over-reliance of technology is the fact that Gen-Y (Milennials, or whatever you want to call them) were the first post-Adam Walsh generation, and brought up being taught never to talk to strangers. Add in the phenomenon of “helicopter parenting,” where even adult kids barely leave their parents’ sight, and it’s no wonder today’s young people have problems making face-to-face connections.

    • Gilbert Mercier
      Gilbert Mercier June 6, 2011 at 5:38 pm

      Very, very good points Brian!

  7. Marty June 8, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    I think I read this article when TV first came out. Also when computers first came out. We will probably read it again when holographic friends and girlfriends come out in the next 50 years.

  8. hayet March 14, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Excellent article, and I love the Walsh reference to ‘helicopter parenting’! So sad, it really is. I feel a little more mixed-though; for me, and I don’t know how… I understand this system of computed ideas and such. I remember no cell phones, and before email (wishing we had it then so I would not have lost so many people!). I was a traveler, so I lost people along the way quite regularly… now it is much easier for me to make the connections and make them stick. Granted, living through the pre-revolution in Egypt and Tunisia… there are many lost to me now even in the age of Internet:(

    What I really want to express is a new PoV… what if? What if we are just becoming aware of ourselves, and the communication is relative… we are all connected anyways, right? Nostalgia is real, and I have it as you have mentioned, it hurts to the marrow. However, I have a wider scope now and friends in many places… a connection to places my ancestors never dreamed of.

    I loved your article ~ definitely thought provoking! Refreshing as well, now how it that? I guess just remembering alongside is a relief, I am not alone. Wasn’t that your point? Never to feel alone?

  9. Nina March 15, 2013 at 5:24 am

    I think that the internet and cell phones, like other technology, takes some time for teens and young adults to appropriately integrate them into their lives. It’s like cars or television – some kids are going to be expert, careful drivers and some will die a month after they get their license, and a vast swath will hover around the middle of that spectrum. I grew up with my eyes glued to the screen every day after school, but I don’t even have television now. Technology might be moving faster than when can adopt societal norms for them, but that will change and future generations will be acculturated to look up from their screens once in a while. I’m more concerned with “helicopter parenting”, as mentioned before. It seems that kids are growing up with a rather obscene sense of entitlement because their parents have effectively cushioned them from anything that might damage their self-esteem or what-have-you. I guess that’s another article though.

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