The technology dilemma

By Andrew Boyers

This morning, 250 million text messages will be sent around the country. I’ll probably send five or six of them. And as I finish, I might join the eight million UK Facebook members to update my profile.


Facebook

Technology is shaping society and the modern world as we know it is developing at a biblical rate. The internet, mobile phones and laptops have become an extension of our beings, as integral to our lives as the opposable thumbs that use them. But what impact is it having on the way we speak and interact?

On the US television show, Californication, Hank Moody said: “People don’t write anymore, they blog. People don’t talk, they text. No punctuation, no grammar-LOL this and LMFAO that.” Is communication via technology anything more than hollow sentiment? And are we really secure in such an environment?

The Internet shrouds a multitude of insecurities. Some might say it’s a tired argument, but how can safety ever be fully guaranteed? Only last month, a 15-year-old girl from Cleethorpes was found in France with a 49-year-old male after making contact with him online. Whilst this continues to happen on our doorstep, it’s a question that must still be asked.

And when we divulge so much information, how can we be sure it won’t come back to haunt us? The media is littered with stories of such cases including that of Matthew Lewis, a young Conservative expelled from the party earlier this month after making jokes on Facebook about Madeleine McCann.

Will we see a news cycle where a Prime Minister is embroiled in scandal over a Facebook image? It would be wise to stop for a moment and understand that what’s on the internet, whilst instantaneous, is also permanent. Even if an image or comment is deleted, it can still be exhumed from the depths of cyberspace and used against someone.

No realm of our life is private anymore. We exist in an era of 24-hour surveillance with our own personal detective agencies, and people are only too happy to provide the most menial pieces of information. Right now through the joy of the increasingly popular social networking site, Twitter, I can see that ‘DanielFrmSctlnd’ went to bed six hours ago and ‘JeremyRowe’ is looking into planning applications for decking.

If we eat a piece of toast, it seems we must now Tweet about it. But we can only use 140 characters, so mentioning that tasty bit of jam or marmalade is definitely out of the question. Still, your followers-and that’s what they’re called because they’ll hang on your words the same way the Disciples would adhere to the teachings of Christianity 2,000 years ago-won’t care that your message is only 140 characters. They’d be satisfied with 14, as long as they’re in the know. But why are we concerned with the most mundane moments in people’s lives? Would we really be bothered if it wasn’t for Twitter or Facebook?

Communication in the modern world embraces our need for instant gratification but provides little long-term satisfaction. Our vanity is indulged as we update our status so that we can massage our egos and unabashed desire to be better than thou. Similarly, we spy on others in the hope that they have slipped on the banana-skin of life. It embraces our arrogance and often our pleasure in the plight of others. But it’s acceptable, and indeed possible, because we do it from behind our keyboards away from prying eyes. To say we’re part of one global network couldn’t be further from the truth; we’re more detached from society now than ever before.

Communication in the technological age is an illusion, representing the denigration of interaction and language that brings us together. Instead of laughing over a beer with a friend in the pub, we’re sat typing “LOL” on MSN. And what are we actually saying we’ll BRB to-a keyboard and computer screen? LOL, OMG and BRB have now become familiar parts of the English vernacular, just in the same way txt msg spk hs bcome nrml 2. The problem is now so bad that the Scottish Qualifications Authority has deemed it permissible for pupils to write in text language during exams-Hamlet’s famous speech acceptably reduced to “2b or not 2b.”

Language is evolutionary; meanings change and words develop over time. Even our very own English language is a mongrel amongst thoroughbreds-a bit of Saxon here, a touch of Celt there. But the words conjured from the modern world aren’t evolutionary. They’ve bred a pseudo-communication that resembles cave man speak more than Queen’s English.

Perhaps I’m being old-fashioned, and I know I may seem as though I long for a bygone era where the pen was mightier than the sword. However, I do like the fact that I can quickly reach someone (providing their phone isn’t switched off and their laptop hasn’t run out of power) to see if they want to go to the cinema. It makes life a lot easier.

Technology is, in some respects, helping us interact and stay in touch with people. And I have no problem with that, as interaction is essential to our very existence. But I can’t help thinking that instead of being a vehicle for the society we live in now, technology is creating a society of its’ own where interaction is no longer meeting someone in the street, but on the Information Highway instead.

6 Responses to The technology dilemma

  1. Adam Underdown says:

    “The Internet shrouds a multitude of insecurities. Some might say it’s a tired argument, but how can safety ever be fully guaranteed? Only last month, a 15-year-old girl from Cleethorpes was found in France with a 49-year-old male after making contact with him online. Whilst this continues to happen on our doorstep, it’s a question that must still be asked.”

    How is this worse than the hundreds of children abducted every year by strangers out in public?

    “And when we divulge so much information, how can we be sure it won’t come back to haunt us? The media is littered with stories of such cases including that of Matthew Lewis, a young Conservative expelled from the party earlier this month after making jokes on Facebook about Madeleine McCann.”
    He was expelled for his inconsiderate humour at the expense of Madeleine McCann; wether he was discovered via facebook or in person is irrelevent. If anything, facebook makes people more accountable for their actions. I have friend’s who phoned in sick from work and were exposed as liars because of the dated photos posted in facebook, showing them out getting drunk.

    People should not blame the Internet for exposing their own personal flaws and mistakes; they should take responsiblity for their own actions, behaviours and opinions.

    “But I can’t help thinking that instead of being a vehicle for the society we live in now, technology is creating a society of its’ own where interaction is no longer meeting someone in the street, but on the Information Highway instead.”

    I really hope this is the case, since travel is one of the biggest contributors to environmental damage. I just wish more people were able to work from home and with the advances in the Internet this should soon be possible. People will always crave direct physical interaction so will still socialise in public, but there is no harm in encouraging socal interaction online. If anything it is less shallow and based on appearance than the age old bar/pub/club scence where people binge drink and go home for casual sex with whoever is drink enough to consider them.

  2. Andrew Boyers says:

    Regards the insecurities of the Internet – I’m in now way suggesting that it’s worse than hundreds of children being abducted on the street – of course that’s a serious issue as well. But nevertheless, my argument is that while children and even adults are in danger from what the Internet offers, then we should still question, and try and find ways of securing, this so far largely unhinged medium.

    I never said that the insecurities of the Internet should be placed at the top of the agenda, just discussed, as some individuals I spoke to suggested we shouldn’t bother.

    Re Facebook and information – again, I’m not suggesting Facebook is to blame for people’s actions. I completely agree that Facebook has made our lives more accountable. But that’s my point – so many people put information on there – status updates, photos, comments – with little regard for the consequences. Matthew Lewis was stupid in his actions, but had a laissez faire attitude about what Facebook would do to him, and got caught.

    Re meeting in public – are you really suggesting we should stop interacting as human beings to save the planet? I honestly don’t believe that the journeys made by children or adults to meet with people are a significant contributor do global warming. Indeed, I’d argue that many of those journeys would be made on foot, or indeed public transport if that is your argument.

    But certainly with children – this new generation is growing up thinking that communication on the Internet is the norm, and that there isn’t much need to meet with people and interact face to face. Of course people are still going to meet up with people – it’ll never die out completely, but I do believe more people aren’t bothering to make the effort anymore.

    That worries me, even if it doesn’t worry you. Obviously we can’t predict the future, but I can only see a denegration of both communication, and the language we use, as a result of the Internet.

  3. Michael says:

    Do you think Shakespeare would have liked Tiwtter? Would have made Macbeth slightly more enjoyable perhaps if he could have written it only as a txt message!

    Still, good article.

  4. Katie Watson says:

    Californication’s an awesome programme – Hank Moody’s well funny! Don’t know if it’s right though- surely any communications a good thing even if it is on the internet.

  5. Richard Dmochowska says:

    I agree totally. Too many times you go round places these days and see spelling mistakes, bad grammar, allsorts. You can only think that the Internet has had a massive part to play in all of it especially if exam boards are letting kids off with writing that way in exams and stuff. It’s not on.

  6. Adam Underdown says:

    “I can only see a denegration of both communication, and the language we use, as a result of the Internet.”

    What is so sacred about the current incarnation of the english language?

    We are moving closer towards a global language with the use of common terms and acronyms over the internet. Thousands of not millions of words have been lost and created in the last 2 millennia, this is perfectly normal. Entire languages are lost when an empire cumbles or conquers someone else.

    In what way does physical proximity add value to communication?

    “Re meeting in public – are you really suggesting we should stop interacting as human beings to save the planet? I honestly don’t believe that the journeys made by children or adults to meet with people are a significant contributor do global warming.”

    I didnt mean to replace all human contact, but to reduce the unnecessary. Thousands of people work in offices, working on the internet, which they could easily do at home. They travel by train or car, pay for parking, congestion charges, etc. People fly across the world to attend meetings they could do over webcam. The social movement from physical communication to digital is a good step in the right direction, but it doesn’t need to be complete and absolute to be of benefit.

    It is my belief that mediums such as the Internet liberate society from a lot of its former restrictions. Everyone has equal access to information and by their own motivation is capable of learning more than the education system could ever offer; as long as they know how to check for references and citations.

    Socially it allows people to find likeminded groups, allowing social diversity even when living in small isolated communities. It allows people to learn about other cultures without having to be directly exposed to them, which may not be possible. It makes people of the world more accountable for their actions, which can only be good.

    I understand people’s fears of free information being misused or used against them, but historically ignorance has caused people more harm than knowledge ever has.