I was thinking today (getting depressed, really) about how social networks have failed at the one thing they were supposed to be good at – bringing people together. Twitter and Facebook in particular have proven to be really great at getting us to just listen to other people with the same viewpoints as ourselves, and making it easy for us to attack those who don’t.
The great dream of social networks was that they were going to break down walls between people, not build them thicker and higher (and also come with easy-to-use catapults for flinging stones over). I think it can still work out that way, but we as a people have dug a pretty dig hole, and a lot of really bad behaviors have been learned online, and will have to be un-learned.
But realizing, of course, that technology is just a tool and that people have to learn to respect each other as people too – social networks are not the problem, they have just made it easy to amplify the problem.
I was riding up the elevator this morning, and I was head-down reading something on my phone. The elevator stopped on a lower floor and the person next to me shuffled off and somebody else came on – I just noted the passing of feet, really, since my eyes were down (aside – someday in the not too far future, people are going to start being crippled by arthritis in their necks from always looking down at their phones).
As the door was closing, somebody in the elevator said “Good morning!”. I assumed it was directed at the person who had left the elevator, a greeting-in-passing between the person getting on and the person getting off.
Door closes, pause a couple beats, “GOOD MORNING!” – somewhat more insistent. Looking up, I saw it was the super-friendly building mail dude, with his cart – something else I hadn’t noticed (a table-sized cart on wheels) because I was wrapped up reading electrons. I smiled and “good morning”ed back, being more enthusiastic than normal, because he had to say it twice.
“I thought you must really be into something on that phone!” he said.
I sheepishly slid the phone in my pocket, “reading the news” I offered quietly – because I guess in my mind, at least I wasn’t playing Fortnite or something. “How’s your day going so far?” I offered – and then we were interacting like humans. A couple sentences back and forth, a chuckle about the state of the world – no big deal, really. Except it is – how many minutes or hours of human interaction are we sacrificing every day for our screens?
(I realize the staggering irony of me saying that, typing this into a screen now for you to read through a screen later).
Anyway, that didn’t go in the direction I expected – I’m not a Luddite or anything, obviously. Technology does more good for humans than it does harm – but we really need to think about how we interact as people, whether on social or in real-life.
By the way, this is what I was reading when I was on the elevator:
What is wrong with people? I know I keep saying this, but when will we evolve to the point that we look past the color of a person’s skin?