To “Like…or not to “Like”: Thoughts on Communication, Technology, and Social Interaction in the 21st Century

To “Like…or not to “Like”: Thoughts on Communication, Technology, and Social Interaction in the 21st Century

Like millions of other people, there I was. At a Thanksgiving Day event – the aroma of turkey, stuffing, and all of the yummy food swirling wildly in the air. Guests were chatting, many of them toasting about their gratitude and thankfulness for the good things in their lives. For the most part, the room was crowded and filled with good cheer. Yet, strangely, as everyone was “connecting”, an oddly disturbing sense of disconnection was everywhere. I’m not exaggerating when I say that just about every guest – young and old (but many more young than old) – had a device in their hand. Sadly, the fact that so many guests were neck-deep in their devices was only the tip of a massive social iceberg.

For the next several hours, I watched so many interactions that were perhaps a reflection of our life as we know it today. As some people “engaged” in conversation, they were actually only “semi-engaged” in the conversation. Checking to see how many people “liked” the array of photos that they recently uploaded to Facebook appeared to be more important than giving their undivided attention to the person in front of them. I also watched three people standing in close proximity to each other, seemingly assembled in that configuration to better communicate amongst each other. However, this proved not to be the case, as I soon realized that they were huddled together “liking” each other’s recent Facebook posts.

And the Facebook feeding frenzy didn’t end there. It wasn’t long before two younger cousins got into a heated exchange when one realized (via Facebook, of course) that the other cousin had a party and didn’t invite her. When another relative intervened and attempted to play mediator, yet ANOTHER relative told her to mind her own business…and posted the following remark as a Facebook status “People need to learn to mind their own business…yes, this means YOU, Aunt Marie!!!”

And there you have it: Welcome to the 2014 holiday season…“where all is merry and bright.”

I poured myself a glass of wine and tried to put it all in perspective. I even went as far as attempting to convince myself that this is “normal”, or, should I say, it falls under what is perhaps the definition of normal in the 21st century. Today (unlike the days prior to internet access), people seem to base their “identity” on the quality (?) of their online presence. Today, “being in the moment” means ensuring that you have adequate bandwidth for your endless array of postable selfies. These, of course, are just generalizations – they certainly didn’t apply to my 90-year old grandmother. But for those to whom this does apply, how do we disconnect when the prevailing expectation is that we remain connected to the internet at all times – as perhaps the only socially acceptable means of communication?

These observations made me question how the drive to remain “connected” doesn’t necessarily mean remaining connected – live and in person. This theory was proven when I overheard a younger guest who was chomping her gum and twirling her hair condescendingly state to an older relative “Oh, you didn’t hear? I posted it on Facebook.” Well, I guess that means that if you don’t see it online, it never happened. It kind of/sort of goes back to that old adage: “If a tree falls in the woods and you didn’t hear it, did it really make a sound?”

No – none of this means that Facebook is a precursor to some apocalyptic event, a social manifestation of Satan, or anything along those lines. On the contrary, I actually know many people who have used Facebook to reconnect with old friends, establish careers, and discover new romantic counterparts (I’m proud to say that I’m one of those people!). But after a few more glasses of wine, I began to think about the implications of this phenomenon – how older people who are less “connected” would disappear into irrelevance and the younger generation would continue to systematically deconstruct and redefine a new version of human interaction that adapts to our rapidly changing world.

Have we arrived at a stage of evolution in which there is really only one acceptable way to know about your cousin’s new boyfriend or the fact that Uncle Bob lost his job? It then occurred to me that no one ever told me that I would have to make the decision “to connect…or not to connect”. It was at that moment that I realized how unprepared I am to make such a decision. It is, however, a decision that I will not take lightly, considering the extent to which people may base their judgments and opinions of me on whether I was aware of their big news – information that could only be found via a Facebook post.

As I poured yet another glass of wine, I realized that I have a lot of thinking to do.

Joshua M. Garrin, Ph.D., ACSM-CPT, ACE-CPT, ACE-CHC

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