Posts Tagged Facebook

The Lonely States of America?

People on the T“The great American disease is loneliness,” Kurt Vonnegut once said in an interview. He was right, as he was about most things, and that loneliness seems to be facilitated by technology.

When Vonnegut was raising his family in postwar America, television was seen as an engine of antisocial behavior. Now, we have something much better: Facebook. In an article for the Atlantic called “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” Stephen Marche argues that social media facilitate an innate desire people have to keep each other at a distance.

Marche correlates an increase in loneliness (measured by such things as the UCLA Loneliness Scale) and the rise of social media. However, he does not blame social media for American loneliness.

“Loneliness is certainly not something that Facebook or Twitter or any of the lesser forms of social media is doing to us,” Marche said. “We are doing it to ourselves.”

People are, after all, annoying, and Marche acknowledges this. He says Facebook and other social media apparatus could be used to bring people together, but people instead use them to sanitize all their social interactions and, ultimately, avoid all the unpleasantness of real time, face-to-face communication.

If Marche is right, then American society is about to get a whole lot lonelier.

In “The Cheapest Generation,” a more recent article in the Atlantic, Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann argue that “Millenials” are ditching automobile and home ownership for sharing schemes like Zipcar and Airbnb. They say Millenials will push America toward a more communal economy, focused on “urban light” neighborhoods instead of traditional suburbs.

That sounds pretty appealing, but I don’t think the America my generation builds will be an urban hipster version of a hippie commune. It might be even lonelier than it is today.

Car sharing programs like Zipcar give members most of the convenience of car ownership without the soul-crushing costs and perpetual need for parking spaces. Members can pick up a car from designated stations on short notice, drive it as much as they want (they get charged by the minute or hour) and drop it off when they’re done.Zipcar at Clark University

It’s a great solution for people who live in urban areas, but it also reduces the driving experience to its essence: privacy. Unless a Zipcar driver is going somewhere with no mass transit, why not take the train? It would be cheaper, and give one more free time.

Car owners need privacy because they’re going places no one else is going; they need flexibility. But if the future really is in car sharing, would anyone take the subway if they knew they could just as easily ride alone?

The “Millenial” generation might easily choose the latter. We’ve grown up accustomed to texting instead of talking, and thinking that social movements can be organized solely through social media. We control the amount of our reactions with other people in a way no previous generation has.

Thompson and Weissmann believe personal property is a concept this generation is not accustomed to. In the same vein, spontaneous everyday interactions could be something that we avoid, and don’t want to experience just because they represent a current social norm.

If people are so quick to trade the uncertainty of phone calls for Facbeook statuses, and the tedium of waiting in line for self-checkout, will they be able to resist hopping in a car instead of riding with the crowd? Or will urban transportation become one more people-free aspect of our society?

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We need to teach our parents some manners

Technology is a wonderful thing (this blog wouldn’t be possible without it), but it does come with some drawbacks. The combined heat of the world’s iPad 3s is probably contributing to global warming, and some say the Internet is just one big distraction. Regardless, one thing is certain: high tech gadgets make people incredibly rude.

People seem to think that smart phones and other devices excuse them from behaving properly. They let them ring at the most inappropriate times, and discuss things in elevated cell phone voices that not one needs to hear. Suits with ear pieces look like they are talking to themselves. People carry on conversations with friends while texting other friends.

A few years ago, this type of behavior would have been unthinkable. Now, people are so engrossed in what is happening on their tiny LCD screens that they ignore the people around them. Is this the future of human interactions? Perhaps not.

I may sound like an altacocker, but I’m actually part of the young, tech savvy generation ad men dream about. This isn’t the 1950s, where an older generation decried youth’s supposed lack of morals. This time, parents (and grandparents) are listening to rock n’ roll. Unlike past cultural phenomena, the technological revolution is not generation-specific.

A common stereotype is that all young people are very good with computers, while their Baby Boomer parents just can’t figure them out. That’s often true, but that doesn’t mean older people are not using computers, smart phones, or tablets. In fact, that’s the problem.

A lot of older people have smart phones, but they may not be comfortable using them. They see other people being obnoxious, and assume it is part of the brave new smart phone culture. These people probably don’t even know how to set their iPhones to “silent.”

Consequently, it’s up to teenagers and 20-somethings to teach their parents some manners. This generation has grown up with the annoyances of technology abuse, so they know how to use their devices without making everyone within a 15-foot radius want to kill them. Youth is also much better for marketing: no one takes an old person complaining about manners seriously, but what about someone in their 20s? For once, parents should listen to their children.

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Is your iPad all it can be?

In one of its recent iPad commercials, Apple tried to show consumers all the wonderful things they could do with Steve Jobs’ little black tablet. From reading classic books to learning a new language, the iPad looks like the key to enlightenment. But is that really what iPad users do with their devices?

You probably have an Internet-connected electronic device at home. What do you use it for? Do you go on Facebook a lot? Do you watch other people make fools of themselves on Youtube? Do you read random blogs written by curmudgeon-y writers?

The Internet brought the world to our fingertips, and devices like the iPad and iPhone make that interface even easier. However, traditional, pre-Internet, goals of learning can’t beat distractions that were designed for the Internet.

There is considerable debate about whether it is better to read a physical book or a digital one, but you can only play Angry Birds on a screen. In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr described how the Internet encourages the brain to skim through materials instead of examining them closely. That makes it very hard to learn a new language, but very easy to scan the latest Tweets.

If Apple’s own commercials are the benchmark, the iPad may not be living up to its potential. Or maybe Apple needs to reassess. Its device is the perfect platform for all the Internet frivolity we know and love. That is its true function, although that may not be the best ad material.

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