Real Social Interaction Is on its Deathbed: Part I

Instead of bringing us together, social media through computers, smart phones, tablets, and all mobile devices is creating a great divide among people. Anyone who wants to communicate in person is fast becoming a minority. More people love their machines than they do other people. These devices are a convenient moat separating people from human contact. Machines help them escape into a world where they feel safe and where other humans increasingly play a secondary role. Human contact in today’s world is fast becoming a memory.

I first noticed something amiss when in Paris some years ago I watched four people sit down at a table near me at an outdoor café. They were young, probably in their twenties, nicely dressed and chatting away happily. As they sat, each took from their pocket a cell phone and placed it in the middle of the table where they were sitting. I thought for a moment that the phones were going to talk to each other without the help of their owners, thus bypassing any human connection.

I finished my coffee and when I got up to leave, I noticed that each person was either talking on their phone or manipulating the keys in some fashion, ignoring the person next to him or her. I thought that the four people hardly knew they were with each other. The only thing they had in common was a cell phone.

In New York each morning I ride the elevator from my 11th floor apartment on my way to work. In that moving box I watch the people in it staring at their smart phones as if their lives depended on whatever they were seeing on the phones small screen. I see their fingers moving rapidly over the phones tiny keys as they send text messages or seek more information from whatever Web site they are visiting.

Over many weeks observation, I even noticed what seemed or be couples, husbands and wives or significant others, busily staring at their phones instead of looking at each other. Did they ever hold hands? Did they touch as lovers might? I wondered what life was like for them behind closed doors when they were home again together for the evening. I hope that life on the living room couch or in the matrimonial bed is far more interesting than the words and pictures social media and the Internet are presenting to them.

In a restaurant last week, a family of five sat next to my companion and me. They were tourists in New York on vacation. They sat down, hastily viewed the menu, and made up their minds what to order. Then each pulled out a smart phone or a tablet. The youngest, a girl perhaps ten, started to text her friends – I could tell what she was doing by how rapidly her fingers moved across the keyboard.  None of those at the table, including the parents, said anything to anyone else sitting there. So it goes.

Now take a hard look at the photos that are an important part of this essay. A friend gathered them from the Internet and sent them to me. The set’s title is “Hanging Out.” If you can see the faces of the young people and if you can watch their eyes, you may recognize that they only have eyes for the small instrument in their hand, never looking at or seeing anyone next to them, across from them, or near them.

These photos serve as an example of how everything outside the self has no meaning and does not exist, especially if you are young. Increasingly it seems that personal existence and even survival depends on the need for face-to-face social intercourse.

At one time, a long ago, the earliest known people sat around campfires or inside caves and grunted or talked as they described their day, vented their frustrations, reveled in something new, or were sad over a an unhappy event. Without saying it, people understood the importance of each other in what has become a cliché, the family of man. I believe that is quickly disappearing. Interacting with real people is still healthy. I am not sure how healthy it is to have an inanimate phone as one’s bosom companion. Are we really social animals? Is the collective ruling our lives? Do the new machines we create, as I believe, now control us? Only time will tell.


3 Responses to Real Social Interaction Is on its Deathbed: Part I

  1. Maria Odete Madeira July 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Interesting…, what does it mean to be human?… When we are simultaneously present in a concrete reality and in another reality: a cyber-reality…, another territory…, we are there, borrowing Serres: more adverbs than verbs.

    We are there, simultaneously present and absent, antinomy without paradox, lost in the gap between the ontos-in-web and the ethos-in-web.

    For those who believe in God, if God had not made a mistake in the calculation (Deleuze), the world would probably not exist. There is always a rest, there is always an incompleteness out there…, an anomaly!

    The anomaly, the error, allows for the evolutionary jumps. But where are our anomalies? Where are our errors? Our bodies? Our thoughts? Affections? Who are we?!

  2. Gilbert Mercier
    Gilbert Mercier July 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    I think ultimately, Deleuze might have grasped this the best. According to the biblical fairy tale, God is supposed to have “rested” the seventh day. Well, may be it was not miscalculation from God, but his Sunday’s idleness-laziness- which made us what we are…..a system error in a structure usually falling into predictable patterns.

    May be we are the anomaly, the error, the grain of sand in the well oiled wheel of time. It is a complete paradox, but this is probably both our biggest strength and our biggest weakness as a specie.

  3. Maria Odete Madeira July 23, 2012 at 4:48 am

    Right, Gilbert.

    I like very much the issue of the error. The error is an incompleteness, the question is: what can we do with our incompleteness? Can we be better? Can we be worst?

    The error is available as possibility for a change, the error is an opening for change. We are giving up everything, including our errors: the machines think for us, the algorithms determine our existence, technologies determine what we do, how we live.

    We can no longer enact the dynamics of being in ourselves to ourselves, we have lost that reflexive capability, even that is mediated. The mirrors no longer reflect us, we are losing our identity.

    This is a very interesting article from Ron, it raises fundamental questions, our bodies no longer communicate directly, even when they are next to each other, our porosity is mediated by prosthetic extensions in the dangerous game of presence/absence, which echoes to issues like integrity and, fundamentally, our survival as a species aware of the dangers and the opportunities, we are erasing our kairos…

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