Technology: Community Builder or Buster?

I’ve lost track of how long people have been wringing their hands over, and bemoaning, the effect–in their minds, negative–technology has on the current generation of young people. The hand-wringers claim television, the Internet, cellular phones, and video games isolate us from other people, and make it next to impossible for us to connect with others.

I humbly disagree.

Just because people talk on their cell phones, send text messages, play video games, or otherwise spend time looking at a screen doesn’t mean we know anything about their social lives, ergo we can’t make any assumptions about them, nor can or should we assume we know better than they do how they should spend their time, or conduct their social lives. Just because we don’t see people striking up conversations with complete strangers–on buses, in coffee shops, or other public places–doesn’t mean those people are unfriendly, unsociable, or lonely.

So why all this hand-wringing over how people conduct their lives now, especially in their use of technology and the way they interact with other people, as opposed to, say, between thirty and fifty years ago?

I don’t believe it’s entirely true that the Internet, cell phones, and other advances in technology have made people isolate themselves from other people. We are, and always have been, social creatures, and we will seek the company of other members of our species from time to time. Granted, some of us are loners, while others are more gregarious. The point is, people make choices about our use of gadgets and other technologies, and about how we interact, or don’t, with our fellow human beings. And nowadays we have web sites like http://www.meetup.com, which prove that technology can be used to bring people together, and to even build community–or at least facilitate community-building.

The bottom line: Society changes as time goes on. And technology advances, and gives us new tools. So we can either complain about societal changes–which, by the way, are inevitable–or we can roll with them.

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