One of those funny emails came around the other day about ‘you know you’re living in 2010 when…’ and one of the answers was ‘when you email the person sitting at the desk next to you’.
I laughed, having definitely done that. And without wanting to kill the joke too much by overanalysing it, I think the reason it’s funny is because on the face of it, it seems like such a strange, disconnected thing to do. The joke suggests that instead of talking or relating ‘face to face’ the use of technology is so entrenched now that we do everything electronically – even when someone is sitting a metre away.
You hear comments that people don’t talk anymore, that family and personal relationships are suffering because people spend all their time in front of the TV or the computer. But I don’t think heavy use of technology is to blame.
And, upon reflection, I also don’t think that emailing the person at the desk next to you is necessarily an antisocial choice.
I think my argument is best served by a couple of real life examples.
My husband is in IT, I work with online communities, my parents are in IT, so you can probably guess that we have a lot of gadgetry in our house. At last count it was three laptops and one desktop computer.
At various times of the day, evening, weekend, etc. it is not uncommon for my husband and I to both be using our laptops.
One fine Saturday I was using mine at the dining room table and my husband Skyped me while surfing the internet in the back garden: ‘come outside, it’s lovely!’ To which I replied ‘I’m on my way!’
Last Tuesday evening we were both using our laptops sitting together on the couch. I started an online chat with a friend in another city, arranging the details of her visit to our place. Part way through this chat I realise that my husband had been looking over my shoulder and had then started his own online chat with the same person to play a joke on me. Bantering messages went back and forth between the three of us for about 10 minutes, and we all had a great laugh.
If I were just to say ‘my husband Skyped me from the backyard’ or ‘we had an online chat while sitting next to each other on the couch’, at first you might think that was weird and evidence of a possible reluctance to talk face to face.
But in actuality it was as connected and intimate as a face to face interaction.
So what’s my point? Technology does not mean disconnection and using it is not being antisocial. It just means the ability to connect, socialize, play and interact with people in other ways. Building and maintaining relationships is about the content of communication, not the delivery medium.