Thursday, December 28, 2006

Technology, Communication And Feeling Connected

Okay, it is a few days after Christmas, and now I've got computer game burnout. I got the new Civilization IV game and its expansion pack, Warlords, for Christmas. I am a huge fan of the previous version, Civilization III. Couple getting the new version of a computer game that I've spent way too much time playing with a whole lot of time on my hands, and, you guessed it, I've had a nightmare of very little sleep since I signed for my DHL box o' Christmas goodies.

However, I did have to leave the comfort of my apartment a few times over the past week. I got another Christmas present, a new job that I'll start in March, so that means signing a new contract and submitting paperwork so that the visa issuance process goes smoothly.

What's great is my new employer is a rarity in South Korea. The administration office is mega-organized and seems to have procedures laid out for everything from the application process to hiring. Since I hate disorganization, I was chomping at the bit when I realized that from top to bottom they appear to have their shit together. I'm hoping this is just an indicator that I made the right choice (I'll keep you posted.)

Anyway, I had to take the train to the college yesterday. It's about a 40 minute subway ride. Sleep deprived, but not wanting to risk falling asleep and missing my stop, I brought a magazine to read.

I recently subscribed to Good Magazine simply because when I heard about the concept behind it, I figured that, even if the magazine sucked, it would be worth subscribing. The concept is that they donate 100% of subscription money generated to the charity that each subscriber chooses from a list of twelve. Their goal is 50,000 subscribers at $20USD a year or $1 million. I figured $20 to the charity of my choice and potentially an interesting read would be worth it. And regarding what I've seen, so far, so good. It doesn't seem to suck at all.

In my Christmas box o' goodies there were two issues of Good. I started reading with the Jan/Feb 2007 issue. In it an article by Peter Alsop, Sleeping with Strangers, caught my eye. It's about a website,, that connects travelers with people who have no problem allowing a stranger to travel to their town or city and sleep on their couch. That was an interesting concept to me because I've done it. Not crash but I have let someone I met on the net, who wanted to travel, sleep on my couch. I was just happy to see that others are as unconventionally crazy or more prone to taking risks as I am, so it was the first article I read. I know there is a risk, but I really do believe that most people mean well and are good people. At least, so far, that's been the case in my life.

This passage from the article struck a chord with me.

In June of 2006, just as MySpace neared 80 million users and Facebook approached 8 million, an article, "Social Isolation in America," appeared in the American Sociological Review. The work of sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona, it examined two national surveys of the American public, one in 1985 and the other in 2004. Their research found that the average number of people with whom Americans discuss important issues has dropped by nearly a third, from about three to two. Even more startling is that one-quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom to discuss their most important matters—twice as many as in 1984. This would suggest that in the same 20 years that saw the rise and triumph of communication technologies—the proliferation of email, cell phones, BlackBerries, and MySpace—our circle of close friends and confidants has shrunk by a significant margin. We are somehow more connected than we once were, and more isolated than ever before.
I agree completely. I'm not suffering from a lack of friends, but I have noticed that I'm not making close ones at the same rate I did before I got access to the net. It seems that this is the case for other people too. I'm not implying a direct correlation, but I'm just noticing that with the increase in connectivity, ironically, I'm feeling less connected to other human beings. What that report indicates is I'm not the only one.

When I got my first laptop, an Apple Mac PowerBook 540, I immediately plugged into AOL. I had visions of networking, meeting interesting people and fostering fruitful friendships and social networks, as well as keeping up with those I'd left behind when I moved from L.A. to San Francisco. However, it was insane and I felt a lot like I'd wandered into a place that mimics what the world might be like if there were no law enforcement and people threw their social norms out of the window.

Years later the net has developed and more people are online, but, honestly, not that much has changed. I'm a member of MySpace, Facebook and a participant on a few online forums. After one breakup, I decided not to mope around, so I joined a dating site and started dating immediately which was a lot fun. Some online interactions have fostered friendships that have developed into friendships that I would consider real, but most are no different from making small talk with the stranger next to you on a bus or plane.

It very well might be fun and interesting, but usually you go your way and they go theirs. Also, a lot of groups on online communities are just as clickish and immature, if not more so because anonymity can make even a weakling very brave, as they were in high school. Add to that the specter of creepy and downright dangerous people hiding behind the anonymity that the net provides and, it seems, you merely have a more technologically advanced way to keep in contact with friends and family. There is nothing wrong with that, and maybe the grand vision of deeply linked virtual communities worth a damn was unrealistic to begin with.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the net at all. As the Sleeping with Strangers article also notes,
Some sociologists argue that sites like MySpace might not promote strong ties between people, but they do greatly enable weak ones. And these connections lead to jobs, apartments, and partners (for some people, Craigslist alone has provided all three).
I owe credit to the Internet for many things like the great apartment my roommate and I found when I first moved to San Francisco. BTW, I met that roommate via an Internet roommate matching service. It was a great match. We are both insulin dependent diabetics and, since I'd just lost my parents, I really needed to live with someone I didn't have to explain the intricacies of diabetes management to. She also accepted that I'll always be in need of a housekeeper, and I kept my piggy tendencies under control because I liked her. She and I are still pretty close friends. Also, the Internet has provided job leads. I had a job last year that I did all from home. As I came here with the goal of travel, travel information as well as cheap tickets are plentiful. The Internet is simply an awesome place to find people like like needs and a place to find information.

Also, it's made my life easier. I can't imagine how difficult banking and other things would be as an expatriate living in South Korea prior to the Internet. Lastly, I'm really happy to discover the world of blogging. It's fun to surf around and read what others have to say as well as having my own blog which makes me think through issues and throw my two cents into the well. So, for what it's worth, I see the value of the technology.

It just seems that with all this connectivity people should be feeling more connected and not less. It just seems that instead of the number of people you can confide in decreasing, it should be increasing. That's what bittersweet about all of this technological progress.

Okay, time for me to disconnect and get back to conquering the world.

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  1. A really well done piece on how the internet can both polarize and connect people. I've experienced both, losing a friend over an internet 'discussion' - silly enough - and meeting my wife via a social networking site!

  2. Yes, the Internet is pretty amazing. This is particularly so when I think about how it has impacted my life and what it would be like without it.

    What's scary is it just seems that people, in general, aren't thoughtful about the great potential it has. Hence why it's rare you get married couples but a lot of stupid Internet spats and brawls.


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