Pretty dramatic spike in readership this week. Thanks to those that are forwarding the link and welcome new readers.
To what degree, if at all, are your friendships enriched by your use of internet-based personal technologies?
At the University of Olso, a US Fulbright student is studying how mobile phones are impacting interpersonal relations in Norway. She reports there are more mobile phones in Norway than citizens because a lot of people have both work and personal phones.
Recently, I asked a 16-year old Norwegian how many text messages she sends a day. “Since purchasing this phone three months ago,” she said while digging into her phone’s archive, “I’ve sent 10,600.” You do the math. In the meantime, while trying to write the last paragraph, I sent my first three text messages (the third message was simply “leave me alone”) to my daughters who find my incompetence amusing.
In late August a few years ago, I played 9 holes of golf with five entering PLU students as a part of orientation. I played with two of the students and an orientation counselor played with three. When my group finished, the other group was still on the 9th tee, a par 5. I suggested to my playing partners that we wait to see how their round went so that we could connect one more time since the whole purpose of the activity was to help the students get to know one another. Fifteen minutes later, as we walked off the green together, five of the six students instantaneously flipped open their phones and started talking to who, friends participating in other orientation activities somewhere else in Tacoma? What did we wait for I wondered.
I acknowledge that cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging, blogging, social network sites, iPods, blackberries, and gps devices are changing how we interact with one another, but are those technologies contributing to closer, more meaningful friendships? As you’ve embraced these technologies, have there been trade-offs?
I feel out-of-step with most people who are enthusiastically embracing the whole gamut of internet-based devices. I find email imminently helpful, and I’m enjoying blogging, but I’m skeptical of whether cell phones, texting, and social network sites are contributing much to people’s interpersonal relationships.
When it comes to these technologies, I’m not totally clueless, just partially. My friends tell me they value their cell phones because they like keeping tabs on their children’s whereabouts, they like knowing they can reach someone quickly in case of an emergency, and they like the convenience of adjusting schedules on the fly.
I turned 46 last week and maybe the mantra of the 60’s, never trust anyone over 40, applies here. Given my recent rant about privacy and my techno-skepticism, I wonder, am I even older and moldier than my biological age suggests? And if I’m a curmudgeon already, what does the future hold?
Add into the mix this excerpt from a recent Wall Street Journal article about the future of friendship:
“Technologies like text messaging and social networking have made it possible to keep track of a much larger group of people than ever before. With built-in alerts, you can get a constant stream of information about your friends and what they’re doing. In the future, more information will end up in your social network—and you’ll be able to send that information automatically to your friends, wherever they are. ’The opportunities to keep in touch with people are going to abound,’ says Fred Stutzman, a researcher at the University of North Carolina. And as GPS hardware becomes more widespread, that information will follow wherever you go—literally. You’ll be able to keep track of the physical whereabouts of your friends. It will also get simpler to use all these services. Today, you have to sign up for MySpace to reach MySpace users, sign up for Facebook to reach Facebook users, and so on. Futurists predict that in 10 years, you’ll be able to reach anyone using any service on your computer or cell phone.”
As an undergrad I did poorly on my first economics exam and promptly changed the course to “pass/no pass.” Somehow I passed, but it must have been a close call. Ironically, despite doing poorly, I took several key concepts from that course—among them, scarcity, elasticity, opportunity cost, and the law of diminishing returns—that I continually return to both in my professional life as an educator and in my personal life.
The WSJ excerpt brings the law of diminishing returns to mind. At what point does a person have so many friends that they can’t see them regularly, can’t keep up on their daily lives, and inevitably sacrifice intimacy?
Despite all the technological advances, time isn’t expanding so our potential for close friendship is still limited.
Since everyone is awake about the same amount of time, imagine everyone has approximately 50 “friendship credits” and friendships range from “1” acquaintance to “10” the most intimate friend. One person might have 5 “level 10” friends, another might have 10 “level 5” friends, another, 25 “level 2” friends, and yet another 50 “level 1” friends. Maybe a more likely friendship profile would consist of something like 3 level 10’s, 2 level 5’s, and 5 level 2’s.
Seems to me that in their seeming excitement about technological advances, the Wall Street Journal’s futurists slight basic sociological insights. Technological advances will undoubtedly make staying in touch with more people even easier, but the trade-off will be intimacy because meaningful friendships will continue to require consistent face-to-face contact.
Check back with me in 2018, but over the next decade, I don’t foresee a single technological innovation contributing significantly to deeper, more meaningful friendships.
If I have to choose, and that’s my precise point, we all have to choose, I’d prefer a relatively small, low-tech circle of close friends to a much larger tech-based circle of acquaintances. How about you?