A Thought on Media Technology and Human Relationships
While in college, I took a class on ‘Popular Culture’, the class filled one of my sociology requirements. One of our texts for the class was a book titled Media Society. In this book the authors made an obvious but profound observation on the effect of media on social situations; they wrote “One important characteristic of media technology, is that it is usable by almost anyone with access to it; it does not require elaborate technical knowledge on the part of its users. The significance of media technology, as a result, is far reaching.”
The authors continue, “the social significance of media communication is that it differs substantially from unmediated face to face interaction…when we take a sociological look at media technology, we are asking how these technologies shape the ways we interact and communicate with one another.” Let’s think about the significance of media technology for a minute.
Almost everyone can use what they called ‘media technology’ (the internet, television, ipods), but have we given serious thought to the implications of these devices if gone unchecked? We need to become what Neil Postman called ‘great noticers’. If we stop and think about it, a live internet/television feed of an event (that can be hundreds or thousands of miles away) is an astonishing manipulation of time and space. We can “be there” without being there.
You can literally live one block away from the a football stadium, not be watching or listening to the game, and someone who lives across the country can know the outcome of the game before you do. Physical distance becomes irrelevant. Why does this matter? Beyond football games, think about your relationships with friends and family. How many of us keep up with friends or family via facebook or myspace. How many of us opt for a computer camera or instant messenger for having ‘face to face conversations’ because it is more convenient. Sure, for some of us we have too because of physical distance reasons. But others, the cost of gas is no excuse for disregarding the importance of quality personal time with the ones we love.
Back to facebook and myspace, the whole concept of ‘virtual community’ suggests that relationships no longer need to be geographically based. While technology has radically changed the way we understand the ‘meaning of distance’, it should not radically change the way we engage in human relationships.
We often talk of the possibilities that new technologies create, the awesome powers of new machines, but rarely do we consider the social implications of such things. We should not only be asking ‘what can technology do for us, but what should we do with technology?’ Yes, these technologies are easily accessible for most of us, but we need to be ‘great noticers’ of its effects, the results are far reaching.