I share, therefore I am. But what does our digital technology really cost us?

Bianca Mueller

Bianca Mueller
Art Director, Trends Analysis, Philips Design

 

Technology has given us a world in which we don’t need be out of contact for a single moment. So it seems paradoxical that in a recent report from the UK Mental Health Foundation,48% of survey respondents believe that people are getting lonelier.

 
Digital connectivity isn’t a bad thing. Via numerous devices, the web provides people with a wide number of communication tools – way beyond the letter or telephone call previous generations had at hand. But in this world of instant and absolute communication, in which we are liberated from the limits of time and distance, and easily able to avoid seeing people face-to-face, we have never been more detached from one another.


Some experts are concerned that social networking sites undermine our social skills and the ability to read body language. And while it is too early to say whether technology is really changing our core ability to relate to others, we can already conclude that technology is no substitute for the human interaction that is a buffer against loneliness. Many are now commenting that society is suffering from an unequalled isolated alienation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors.


Youth are often referred to as the ‘Connected Generation’, but they are not immune from this isolation, and in fact the report identified them as surprisingly more at risk, as they have never learned to cultivate the ability of solitude. In the current society being alone is considered to be a problem that needs to be solved by virtual connection. But it seems to be forgotten that being alone is a natural need for an intelligent individual, as it’s an enabler to inner balance. Being alone is not the same as being lonely.

 

The feeling that ‘no-one is listening to me’ makes us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us. “It gives us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship,” says psychologist Sherry Turkle who studies how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication. (See Sherry’s most recent TED talk on the subject.)  We project the same empathy onto machines that we’re very anxious to receive ourselves.


Digital communication in the form of texting, posting and emailing lets us present ourselves in the way we want to be – and we can still retouch after the initial thought. We are comfortably in control and we can customize our lives in an online world. It seems that technology is redefining human interaction.

 

December 11, 2012

 

Philips Design researches social, cultural and visual trends to help us understand people around the world: how they live, what they cherish, their attitudes and so on. In particular, it allows us to identify emerging trends and underlying movements – both short- and long-term.

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