Technology and Social Interaction

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Connor Disco
Veena Raman
CAS 137H
31 October, 2012
Technology and Social Interaction
Society today is the result of a massive Digital Revolution. Like the Industrial Revolution
before it, this transition represents a substantial shift in the functional structure of the world but,
unlike its predecessor, has been catalyzed by sweeping changes in computational technology.
The world has entered into the Information Age in which life runs on batteries and technology is
so deeply integrated into everyday existence that for some, it has become difficult to imagine
functioning without it. This development has caused influential shifts in the way society
operates. Notably, communication technology has had such an impact that it has altered the way
people interact with each other. Sending emails has replaced writing letters, cell phones have
made putting forth the effort to talk to someone face-to-face seem excessive, and smaller, more
portable devices have allowed users to stay constantly connected with the world around them.
These advances in technology have been so fundamental that they have not only changed the
culture in which people live, but have also created a whole new system of etiquette which has
resulted in a generational divide between their users.
Innovation is not a new concept. In fact, the idea of bettering lives through invention
goes all the way back to the proverbial creation of the wheel. Despite the fact that innovative
developments have been occurring continuously in the past, however, the shift seen throughout
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the Digital Revolution is unique because of the magnitude of change that has occurred over a
comparatively short period of time. The reason for this phenomenon is because of the
exponential structure of technological advancement: innovation requires resources; the more
resources that are available, i.e. the more advancements that have already been made, the easier
and more quickly new concepts can develop. Consequently, the result that has been seen is an
increasingly fast progression of technology translating to larger expansion in less time. The
Information Age is generally considered to have begun in the early 1980’s. At this time, the first
and arguably one of the most significant developments in a movement to make technology more
accessible took place when IBM released its computer designed for purely personal use, a
concept generally foreign to the market before this point (IBM). Since then, technology has been
evolving in increasingly large leaps. By 1991, the Apple’s first portable computer was released
(“Timeline”); in 1998, Google was founded (Google); in 2004, the social networking
megacorporation Facebook was launched (Carlson); and in 2007, the first iPhone was released
(“Timeline”). Today, the culmination of this growth is perhaps most evident in the realization
that the world’s information now doubles in less than every two years (“Digital Universe”). As a
result of the immense advancement in the past thirty years, society now revolves almost
completely around technology that was non-existent before this revolution.
One of the most apparent effects of the technological changes in this era is how social life
has been altered: the way people interact with each other today is vastly different from even a
mere few decades ago. Technology has provided outlets through which communication has
become almost completely electronic, varying from cell phones and email, to Facebook chat and
Skype calls. Companies such as Apple and Samsung have been able to provide astonishingly
powerful computing power in smaller and smaller devices, enabling users to link with the world
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in almost any location. Consequently, the relationships between people today rely heavily on
technology and as such, societal focus has been significantly altered to favor constant
As a part of this shift, society is now facing the difficulty of dealing with a new paradox:
although advances in technology have been driven by a desire to make communication easier and
have allowed users to be continuously in contact with the world, it is because of this technology
that the quality of social interaction has in many ways diminished. In order to fully understand
this conflict, one must look at specific examples of the effects of technology. The first to note is
that, while the development of social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter has
expedited the communication process, the conversations that these sites facilitate is often trivial
in comparison to the face-to-face interaction they replaced. Studies have shown that despite
being able to connect to vast amounts of people through social networks, individuals are still
only influenced by those with which they have a real-world connection (Cavanaugh). This is
conformation that virtual relationships are not equal substitutes for true human interaction and
with more and more users making and maintaining friendships through virtual environments, the
depth of the connections being formed are becoming much more shallow. Secondly, by
providing a way for users to communicate almost exclusively with others using technology, the
advancements seen in the past years have created a system in which people interact with
unrealistic versions of each other. With a computer as a tool, for instance, one has control over
the information seen by others, in which case a user can manipulate exactly how they appear to
the world. One writer discussed his doubt about, “whether people use [social networking] sites to
display their popularity to the world rather than use them as a vehicle to develop meaningful
relationships” (“Technology”). His point is that by allowing users to idealize their image, these
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sites are simply contributing to narcissism rather than providing a productive means of
communication. Technology also removes the physical presence of the speakers from the
conversation, creating an environment in which users react differently than they might in a faceto-face interaction (Cavanaugh). In both these cases, the user is represented unrealistically,
which makes connections with others via technology unauthentic. Lastly, despite their ease of
use, technological forms of communication are ineffective at displaying emotion. To have any
kind of substantial conversation, emotional conveyance is vital and etiquette expert Elaine
Swann explained on KPBS radio that the black words of a text, chat message, or email, are
simply unable to create this connection (Cavanaugh). As a result, the quality of conversation
possible while using these devices pales in comparison to its real-world counterpart.
Not only have technological advancements led to a shift in the depth of conversation,
they have also resulted in the development of an entirely new system of etiquette due to changing
standards of conversation. Now that communication is so easy, new expectations have risen in
regards to the use of technology as a tool for interaction. When communication was more formal,
etiquette was more universally understood (Cavanaugh). Standards of when to speak formally or
when to return a call, for example, were much more well-defined. Now, because of how swiftly
technology has developed, the new social etiquette system is continuously evolving over time
and the line between what is acceptable and what is not has consequently become blurred. One
of the main contributors to this vagueness is the fact that most modes of communication today
are more casual than comparable methods in the past. For instance, sending an email or a text is
much less formal than a letter, thus using a formal tone in an informal medium can feel awkward
and sometimes result in difficulty for users in identifying the appropriate tone to use
(Cavanaugh). Additionally, due to the concept of constant availability associated with use of
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technology, new social complexities have developed in regards to how one should be
communicating. Now that connecting is so easy, users have the ability to interact with others
almost all the time. Given this power, however, users must now deal with the intricacies of
making the conscious decision of when and where to communicate. The appropriateness of using
a cell phones in public, in restaurants, in bathrooms, or while simultaneously interacting with
another person face-to-face, for example, is an aspect of modern communication that is still not
explicitly defined.
Due to the pace with which the new social etiquette system has developed and the
understanding that many of its minutiae are still formalizing and are thus slightly ambiguous,
there has been variance in receptiveness from society of this new system which has resulted in a
generational divide between those who use technology to communicate. The primary difference
between those on each side of the divide, the younger and older populations, is that the youth
today have grown up with communication technology as an integral part of their lives whereas
the people who were born long before these advancements were made have had to transition into
the use of this technology. Accordingly, there is a significant difference in perspective between
the two groups. Because younger users of technology have never known life without technology,
reporter Veronica Vela has found that using it to communicate has become, “the new mindset of
this generation” (Vela) and the social standards that have developed feel natural to these users.
For a teenager, watching television, texting, and holding a face-to-face conversation all at the
same time would not be uncommon or considered particularly disrespectful. Without concrete
distinctions of what is socially acceptable, this generation tends to prefer the use of technology
for multitasking and virtual communication. The older generation, however, is more accustomed
to face-to-face interaction, therefore generally favoring physical human interaction and viewing
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holding multiple conversations at the same time through the utilization of technology to be
inconsiderate (Cavanaugh). There are of course exceptions to both of these generalizations, but
for the most part, these discrepancies in interpretation of what is socially acceptable have led to a
separation of young and old users of technology. One could argue that this kind of divide has
always been present between subsequent generations, but the aspect that makes the current
dynamic unique again relates back to concept of a fast development over a small period of time.
Previous generations have had time to slowly adapt to the use of new technology, making
variances in reception of the social implications associated with these changes less significant.
With the immense advancements in the past thirty years, social standards have evolved very
rapidly, leaving little time for adaptation and have therefore creating a distinctive rift between
Analyzing the effects of technological advancements gives a very clear picture of where
society is headed. Communication technology is developing faster than ever which had led to a
culture that focuses around the use of this technology. These developments have greatly
benefitted society, making communication faster, easier, and less costly. However, with a change
of this magnitude, it is important to step back and examine its overall impact; conversations have
become more shallow, the physical connection of a face-to-face conversation has become
undervalued, and the use of technology has led to an obsession with multi-tasking which some
would argue is harmful to society. As such, it is important to discuss whether is society headed in
the right direction. The answer is of course complex. Technology clearly has the power to
immensely improve society and pursuing advancements in this field could lead to astonishing
discoveries in the future. As a group, however, it is important that people respect the power
technology has to shape their lives, realize the downsides of using technology, and focus on
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taking advantage of its benefits without letting it overpower their relationships and thus diminish
the quality of their social interaction with the world around them.
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Works Cited
Carlson, Nicholas. "At Last -- The Full Story Of How Facebook Was Founded." Business Business Insider, 5 Mar. 2010. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.
Cavanaugh, Maureen, and Renee Villasenor. "How Technology Affects Etiquette And
Social Interaction." KPBS, 12 Jan. 2012. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.
"Digital Universe." EMC Corporation, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.
Google. "Our History in Depth." Google, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.
IBM. "Announcement Press Release." IBM Archives. IBM, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.
"Technology Can Have Positive and Negative Impact on Social Interactions." Human Kinetics, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.
"Timeline: Apple Milestones and Product Launches." Reuters, 2 Mar. 2011. Web.
24 Oct. 2012. <>.
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Vela, Veronica. "Study Shows Internet Is Replacing Real Social Interaction." Eagle
Eagle News, 4 Oct. 2011. Web. 23 Oct. 2012. <>.