A New Social Reality

January 10, 2010
With social networking sites like Facebook and personal gadgets like iPods becoming staples of teen culture, youth are growing up in a different world than that of their parents and grandparents. Thanks to the Internet, teenagers can interact with people who they have never met, and because of iPods, people can zone out the world out and listen to their favorites song wherever they are. However, some are questioning whether all these innovations that enable teens to distance themselves from the world are actually destroying their social skills. Source F discloses that Internet users spend 25% less time with friends than non-internet users, showing a direct correlation between Internet usage and decrease in face-to-face time with real people. On the other hand, there are some who argue that modern technology brings people together through social networking sites and a shared passion for music. They point to the other statistics in Source F of Internet users who spend more time on the phone than non-internet users, and who work with organizations an almost equal time as non-internet users. Technology can be seen to both isolate and join together members of a community in these examples. The duel effect of technology both inhibits traditional socialization and fosters new skills necessary for modern social interaction. Modern technology has changed the social skills of today’s teens, diminishing their face-to-face interaction abilities while teaching them the social skills necessary to make friends in a world of swirling technology.

Because of the advanced technology we experience today, teenagers are becoming more isolated and enthralled by virtual worlds and their personal gadgets. As teens walk down the street, engrossed in their iPods, they notice no one as they pass by on their way home, where they will promptly hop on Instant Messenger to chat with friends without ever having direct contact with a fellow human being. A Carnegie University study shows that, even when people used the computer for the sake of communicating with friends, they still reported more instances of loneliness, depression, and isolation from family (Source B). Clearly, the Internet has an effect on the ease with which teens communicate and engage in direct contact, even among their families. Teens are losing traditional social skills through the distance technological innovations put between them and fellow humans, enabling a culture of detached people relying on chat systems and email for all correspondence.
While technology may be undermining young people’s aptitude for face-to-face meetings, they are still developing new social skills that allow them to engage in community like the preceding generations were never able to experience. In this increasingly virtual world, the shared passion for iPods and music brings together an eclectic group of strangers every month for an iPod music expo in a London bar, as described in Source D. Participants can build playlists of their favorite songs and easily transport it on their iPods to the bar, where they share their music and make personal connections through shared tastes. Technology has brought people together in different ways than others’ thought possible. Teenagers are establishing new and previously unheard of social practices, bringing strangers together through the medium of technology.

There are some people that argue that technology is either all bad or all good for young people’s social skills; however, numerous studies have documented the both positive and negative effects of the Internet and gadgets, proving that while some skills are hampered, new abilities are being built. Many people like to chalk up adolescent behavior to electronics, labeling them as unnecessary evils the new generation would be better off without. These critics are wrong, however, because, as Source C puts it, “The Internet can foster openness, self confidence, and a greater sense of ease and comfort.” Those who say the Internet and other forms of technology have not considered the power from having unlimited knowledge databases at your fingers, an open channel of self-expression and assertion, and the non-judgmental attitude fostered by a system that excludes physical appearance. This is not by any means an agreement with those enthusiastic fans of modern innovations that happily boast of the transformative powers specific electronics has had on American life. It is understandable when someone listens to their iPod in public out of the desire for familiarity in an unfamiliar situation; but, as Source E asserts, it is leading to populations of isolated people. When your headphones are in and the music is blaring, it is highly unlikely that you will bother to strike up a conversation with someone, and even less likely that someone with start a conversation with you, because having headphones in is a universally understood statement of withdrawal and detachment. Modern technology is not all good or bad, helping both to encourage individual expression and individual seclusion in the world.

The possibilities and opportunities afforded by advancing technology continue to influence the lives of teens today and in future generations. These innovations are changing social interactions, depleting instances of human-to-human contact while creating new and enriching ways to experience community and keep in touch with the aid of technology. Those who argue that technology is evil cannot ignore the multitudinous benefits it has brought to individuals’ lives. At the same time, any who welcome all technology into their lives without caution cannot deny the somewhat sad effect technology has on human contact. Instead, teens and grown-ups alike should recognize and be aware of the changes that are taking place. By distancing individuals from the world while creating new mediums for virtual stimulation, technology is changing, not destroying, the social abilities of teens.

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