Thomas Friedman, the famous NY Times bestselling author argues in “The World is Flat”, that technology has brought us closer together and provided many oppportunities for achievement and success for in a global community. Evidence of Friedman’s argument is everywhere.
Social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Linked In, and a host of others that crop up almost weekly, underscore Friedman’s argument that the universe in which 360 billion people live is shrinking. As he points out, this trend toward relying more and more on technology for everything, is going to continue. To put it another way, the growth of technology in our lives is unstoppable and will continue to change the way we think and do things and, even more importantly, the way relationships are formed and nurtured.
Embedded between the lines in Friedman’s book are echoes of the famous theorist, Marshal McLuhan, who coined the phrase, “the medium is the message” (McLuhan 1964). To summarize his work, McLuhan argued that we are technologically determined, meaning that we create the technology that re-creates us. That is, the pervasiveness of media technology greatly influences and shapes the way we think, our attitudes about human life and our behavior.
Indeed, McLuhan asserted way back in the 1960’s that technology is an irresistable, unstoppable force that will continue to change the world in significant ways. Fast forward to today and we understand that Friedman’s book, ensconced as it is in McLuhan’s ideas, tells the story of how this has already happened and what it means for the future of the global community. In this, Friedman is both a thorough economist and historian.
This raises an issue in what I consider the most important area of the human experience: interpersonal relationships. Despite it’s limitations, has technology already replaced the need or desire for face-to-face communication? If so, what does this say for the future of interpersonal relationships and their meaning and impact on our lives?
Checking my own use of and dependence upon media, I note, with slight embarassment, that the number of text messages I send every month dwarfs the number of phone calls I make. Texting is far more comfortable, less time-consuming and can be done at my convenience rather than having to pick up the phone everytime someone calls, which, for me, is quite a lot. I even discovered that lately, I tend to be curt or short to people who phone me whereas, when they text, I feel that I have more time to respond thoughtfully to their questions or concerns.
Is this a good thing? Indeed, is it healthy for us to be so reliant on our gadgets to communicate with even the most significant persons in our lives? What does the future hold for face-to-face communication? It’s a question that is puzzling and, for me, difficult to answer especially when I examine my own preferences and habits.
Time will tell, but for now, McLuhan is absolutely correct: “the medium IS the message” (emphasis mine). Indeed, Friedman’s book may as well be titled, “Welcome to Flatland”!
Are you as dependent on your gadgets as I am? In your view, will they replace face-to-face communication even in your most important relationships? If so, is this a good thing?
I would love to hear your experiences with technology! Let me hear from you!