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Technology and Social Isolation

  • Date Submitted: 01/11/2011 12:02 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 49.4 
  • Words: 436
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In a seeming confirmation of a study by Harvard's Robert Putnam ("Bowling Alone"), research by sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona suggests that Americans are increasingly isolating themselves via technology, with friendships and commitment to community dying as we spend more and more time staring at screens and yakking on cell phones -- as opposed to seeing people honestly and forthrightly, face to face, with the emotional riches (and challenges) therein.

Communications are becoming increasingly second- or third-hand. Even such places as Starbucks, touted as local gathering spots, seem to be filling with people staring at the screens of their laptops, not at friends and fellow customers. The desire to avoid the anxiety of real personal encounters seems to be spreading. (Next stop, the end of sex, or at least the kind involving two bodies next to each other? Well, that'll save money and time, though it might produce something of a labor shortage.)

The latest published research comes in "Social Isolation in America," in the American Sociological Review last week, involving interviews with 1,467 adults. (See www.asanet.org under "Journals.")

The findings suggest to me that the Internet and other forms of instant communication might be hurting the overall quality of life more than helping by eroding honest discourse, developed thought and civil society. While we tend to think of communication as a good thing in itself, increasingly the electronic communications taking over the world encourage mental static, speed for the sake of speed and attention-deficit disorder. More communication doesn't mean better.

The Internet provides a happy haven for many passive-aggressive types and a portal for endless quantities of information (much of it wrong). And cell phones, for their part, do, it is true, let you call AAA on a rainy night in the middle of nowhere.

"With text messages, you can send messages and you can get an instant reply. The phone...


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