The image is an all too familiar one: you get on the bus, or sit down for dinner with friends, or get out of the movie theater with a date, and everyone automatically pulls out their smartphone and immerses themselves in the glowing screen. Even on an everyday bus ride or at a waiting room, you no longer see anyone strike up a conversation – it is far more convenient to scroll down algorithm-generated content on social media. The big question is: is tech really making us anti-social?
Video Chat and Gaming: How Tech Can Be Social
Interestingly, some researchers suggest that this compulsive need is due to our desire for more, not less contact – and should be more appropriately described as hyper-social. Social media has certainly changed the way we keep in touch, and email has forever altered how we communicate with everyone, from coworkers to friends to merchants. But have they really made us anti-social? While people keep nagging about how much less meaningful contact over social media is, the truth of the matter is that if it wasn’t for networks and apps like Facebook or Viber, a lot of people would have just fallen out of touch or would never have been able to reconnect with old classmates. And surely without popular video chat platform Skype or FaceTime, a lot of people that have moved away for work or studies would not be able to have quality conversations with their loved ones.
Online gaming, one of the most ill-spoken about tech developments, can also have a positive social effect. While online multiplayer games like World of Warcraft have been demonized for allegedly keeping young people inside and away from meaningful contact, they can actually allow shy individuals to come together and bond over a shared hobby. Some even bring you closer to the real world: according to Betway, online games like dual-play roulette pairs up online players at home with players on a table at a land-based casino. And, recently, a trend has evolved that brings together gamers beyond the confines of the World Wide Web to play competitively and make friends. eSports tournaments like SXSW Gaming 2019 revolve around extremely popular games like Dota 2 (its Battle Pass had led to a prize pool of over $17,680,000) and League of Legends, and see thousands of fans flock to compete and watch.
Conversely, Are We Addicted to Our Smartphones?
In some ways, the answer seems obvious. Technology has revolutionized such big parts of our lives that the way we communicate and interact with others could definitely not be an exception. In fact, it is one of the biggest issues of how modern tech has changed us. With technological innovation comes convenience, from the simplest things to the more elaborate. The advent of the telephone meant that people spent less time talking face to face, the same with the internet and mobile phones, while having a television set at home discourages people from going to the movies, a much more social experience. Online grocery and retail shopping have also completely transformed one of the areas where we were used to interacting with others; nowadays, you can find anything you’d like on Amazon and there is no longer a need for a family outing to the grocery store or a shopping spree with your best friend.
This infatuation with technology has led to some unpleasant developments. The well-known myth, based on a 2015 Microsoft report, that our average attention span as a species has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds, has been debunked – but that does not mean that relying so much on digital content has not impacted our ability to memorize. The sheer fact of owning a smartphone can elicit behavior that could be described as anti-social: research has shown that the average user tends to check their smartphone screen a whopping 150 times daily, and, in any case, twice as often as people believe they do. Users in North America invest three to five hours daily in looking at their smartphones, which means that each of us is spending roughly seven years with our eyes locked on the screen.
So, it seems that, as with many things, the answer might not be tied to the tech innovations themselves, but on how we use them. You get to decide whether you will find new ways to socialize through technology, or let it undermine long-standing relationships.