How are tech and new media changing the way people relate to each other? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Tech and new media are fundamentally changing human interaction and we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Google just announced its Pixel Buds, which supposedly have the ability to translate spoken language in real-time. Let’s all reread that sentence together: They supposedly have the ability to translate spoken language in real time.
As with all things technology and communication, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, goodbye language barriers and lost tourists! Hello to off-the-beaten path adventures and trysts with attractive foreigners! On the other hand, will future generations not learn another language at all? (We’re already pretty bad at this, fellow Americans.) There is value in learning languages, and often the structure of a language reveals a piece of history or a new way of thinking. I have always loved how semitic languages are based on a root system, where the nouns, the verbs, the adjectives - they are all linked by common letters. Will we one day see married couples who can communicate only with earpieces? And is that beautiful, or sad? I really don’t know.
We live in a world where we can do almost anything with a few taps of a screen. Dozens of objects - phone, camera, flashlight, calendar, photo album, TV, ATM, shopping cart, white noise machine (I have trouble sleeping okay) - have been reduced to a single, palm-sized device. It’s truly magical. I will always love you, Harry Potter, but texting is a bit simpler and faster than an owl (or even the Floo Network). But in so many simple ways, we are forgetting whom we are communicating with, which is to say people and not screens.
It is now socially acceptable to talk to seven other people while in real-life conversation with one. It is acceptable to be late - or bail completely - because you can let the person know by text. You can notify them, so it’s okay. But texting allows us to bypass the guilt we would feel if we heard their voices. And we can apologize by text too, but is it really an apology if we can’t see their face, and they can’t hear our voice? Is there empathy in that exchange? We live in a new, uncharted world where we can take the easy road out. And we do.
Similarly, at work, we now have a myriad of options, none of which require any face-to-face communication whatsoever: Email, texting, slack, gchat, asana… the list goes on and on. And then we wonder why we are terrified to have difficult conversations that will advance our career trajectories, and why the idea of giving a presentation can be paralyzing. Moreover, the miscommunication that can come when we slack rather than talk are overwhelming.
There may be no better example than the rise of online dating. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done [more than] my fair share of swiping, and I’ve met some amazing people that I would otherwise never have met. Best of all, it seems that online dating may be contributing to the rise of interracial marriages.
But we live in a world where people don’t need to take initiative; where bars are places for staring at screens rather than meeting the people around you. There are relationships that exist almost entirely by text: We meet by text, communicate by text and occasionally see each other in real life and then, the cruelest part of all, we break up by text. I have seen long-term relationships end by text message. There is no closure there.
So often, we don’t say what we feel because it’s scary and we can text it instead, which spares us the risk of seeing, hearing, and internalizing the other’s reaction. But then it could be screenshotted… so instead we send an emoji and take no risk at all.
I know, I’m supposed to be a comedian and here I am going all doomsday on you! There is hope. As I mentioned, I think technology is magical, but that we’re in uncharted territory. It’s our responsibility to chart it: To seize opportunities to speak, to put away our phones, and to have that in-person conversation (or phone call) even when we know it would be easier to email or text. We have to voluntarily chosen the more difficult path, and that’s a tough sell.
Who’s up for the challenge? Are ya with me? Or am I talking to myself? It’s hard to say, because I’m alone at my kitchen table typing, even though I’m here with all of you.
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