Technology is in the Eye of the Beholder

It’s been a while since we featured a post focusing on Millennial social culture – and how it impacts public service – but a certain video caught my eye this past week, as it resonated with many of the points I made in my TEDx talk on EA. This video is called “The Innovation of Loneliness”, and as you can see, it breaks down some of the major social pitfalls of expecting “more from technology and less from each other.”

Cohen covers many questions we ponder over here at EA. When we become ‘close’ to so many people who are far away, do we become further away from the people directly around us? When we become accustomed to convenience and a light-speed pace, do we lose patience for our fellow (wo)man? If we’re all cherry picking what the world sees about us, are we ever really connecting with honesty and depth?

However at the same time, the video left me unsettled.

I felt there was something incomplete about the assessment, since I so frequently use Facebook and this website to bring together people all over the world in the name of public service and social change. Isn’t technology good for something?

Seems I wasn’t the only one who thought so. “No mention of social technology’s extraordinarily positive impacts across the board (say, for example, the fact that I found it through your Facebook post),” one friend typed to me on FB. “Yes, we need to discover a deeper kind of human intimacy, and yes, extreme self-reflexiveness is an issue exacerbated by instant publishing, but perhaps demonizing the mediums through which our modern ailments proliferate is a less productive path than understanding why they exist in the first place.”

Another friend typed up an eloquent, detailed e-mail response. “The narrator too narrowly defines ‘friendship’ for my taste,” he wrote. “I think friendship is spectral, and I actually think it’s quite healthy to have friends of varying intimacy. As an introvert it’s difficult for me to sustain the profundity of connection I enjoy with my 3-4 closest friends with a larger group; I find it draining, and the additional chance for meaningful connecting doesn’t justify, for me, the additional vulnerability inherent to sharing insecurities, hopes, fears, etc.”

Said friend also brought up an important point. “The narrative seems predicated on this idea of the “innovation of loneliness,” as if no one ever felt that emotion before this age of hyper-connectivity.” Spot on, right? Loneliness has plagued hearts and communities for eons. “I think one could just as easily argue that social media can also be quite liberating for people who don’t necessarily have other channels through which to express themselves, or who can find virtual refuge among anonymous peers when their more proximal reality is perhaps oppressive or intolerant toward aspects of their identity.”

What do YOU think?

I always tend to settle on the Kentaro Toyama conclusion that technology is just an “amplifier”.  If we yearn to connect deeply, technology helps us do that 100 fold. If we yearn to connect superficially, same result.  Everyday Ambassador was designed quite deliberately to be a home base for deep connections, and it’s just one many sites that engages people to be inspired, motivated, and take life-changing actions. 

A really precise example is an incredible organization called The Jubilee Project. I am blessed to call Eric, Eddie, and Jason true friends, and their videography has inspired millions of people around the world to create and adopt more tolerant, loving, gracious behaviors in our everyday life. They just released a new short film this week about life on Skid Row, a 50-block community in Los Angeles “home” to over 4,000 homeless people. Their film challenges misperceptions about homelessness and homeless people, by diving intimately into their lives, and they present it in a way that allows nearly anyone to relate. And it’s the launching pad for their latest initiative, JPx, which engages viewers inspired online in meaningful service work offline.

I suppose technology is just in the eye of the beholder.  Sure, some people will just use it to Instagram pics of their breakfast sandwich. But folks like Jubilee use it to build bridges between mass online audiences and dire needs in ‘real’ life.  The power is there if you see it that way. And that’s a choice you get to make everyday.


1 Comment

  • Elaine Otto

    Why can’t we do both? Reach out to those we would otherwise be unable to reach using the power of technology, but be wary not to cast aside those physically within reach because we can always “catch up later”. Later should be now. We need to make the time to integrate “face to face” time within our “face” time. Meet for a coffee or a meal. Get together at the park and share what’s been going on.
    Before the advent of this powerful technology we spent time with friends and family either by telephone (if they lived a distance away) or in person, frequently. The definition of a friend has not and should not change because we can reach more people via this medium. At best, we have increased the number of our acquaintances and unless we can spend quality face to face time, they will remain acquaintances. True friendship, in my opinion, is a labor of love, planting the seeds, nourishing it, and developing it. However, with that said, I think it is possible to connect with someone via the internet or Facebook and develop a friendship in that context. For me, it’s the time I am able to spend with a particular individual that more clearly defines whether this person is a close friend, casual acquaintance, school colleague, Church friend, etc. My point is, let’s make sure we don’t lose the human experience. As a 3rd grade teacher one concern I have is screen time access by children at too early an age. I am already seeing some students lacking basic social skills and the correlation of this to the enormous amount of time they spend on a computer. Kids are and always have been very savvy, i.e. let them develop social skills, screen time can come later…they will more assuredly catch on and catch up. I remember once saying to my children that someday in their lifetime someone will develop a chat room that you will have to drive or walk to, go in, take a seat, and start a dialogue with someone who is sitting across from you!

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