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.

Evolution

I attended a free exhibition at a local art gallery this past Saturday, which included a discussion following the tour of the exhibition. During this discussion, some of my fellow attendees claimed current media, like television and video games, isolate us from our fellow humans and numb us to the world, and parents and other authority figures aren’t doing as much as parents of yesteryear did to engage with their kids, and get their kids to engage with the world, by, for instance, sending them outside to play.

Granted, there is such a thing as too much time in front of a screen–computer, television, what have you. But I don’t see evidence that anyone who watches more than twenty hours of television a week or plays video games is deadened to the world; in fact, the gamers and TV geeks in my life are relatively normal. People, kids included, are not automatons; they are capable of consuming the media they do and still interacting normally with the world.

The discussion at the gallery also delved into whether or not any of the pieces we saw were art, and what qualifies as ‘art;’ one man stated artists should learn the rules of art before doing it. I took a continuing-studies course at Emily Carr University, which was an introductory look at form and composition in art; from that perspective, I agree it does help to have a rudimentary grasp of the basics of form and composition when starting work on a composition, as opposed to taking a haphazard approach. I’m now wondering if the artists whose work was displayed at the gallery this Saturday took any art courses or not, where they learned their craft, and what was going through their minds as they worked on their pieces.

The fact is, art and culture, like everything else, evolve. The criteria for what is considered art has expanded, and tastes have expanded with them. To state the painfully obvious–and what has been stated before–art, like taste, is subjective. It’s just a question of what stands the test of time, and what ends up in the ashcan of history.

And, no matter what happens, humans are a social species–evolution has seen to that; ergo, we will always seek company and community with our fellow humans.