Monday, October 21

Social networks deplete social skills


SUBMITTED BY:Oliver Coughlin

The social networks of our generation have alienated people from themselves. The idea that society has become alienated, though, seems inconsistent with the new, broad and instantaneous modes of social networking offered by sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

But these online communities are manifestly centered on the self rather than the other. Status updates, for example, consume most of people’s time spent on Facebook. The importance people place on what they do, or perhaps on themselves, is confounding. The communication is between the self and the ego, which isn’t communication at all.

Perhaps this sense of isolation doesn’t occur strictly within modern networking but on a human level as well.

Once, on a whim, I visited an apartment party. As I approached this particular complex, I was greeted with a blast of music that was too loud and oppressive to even appreciate.

I entered casually and turned to a floater to ask where the restrooms were, only to realize that my voice was lost in the blare. Waking my diaphragm and straining my vocal chords, I delivered a phrase that he apparently understood. He nodded and smiled. Was he agreeing with something I said? I found the restroom on my own.

I spent 30 minutes intently observing the flux and noticed that the human interchange was deprived of personality and voice and that people were subconsciously engaged in themselves, thriving only by suppressing the knowledge of that fact. We believe quite indiscriminately that social contexts, especially in college, are personal and engaging. But many are radically impersonal, static and centered on the self.

Technology has only accentuated this reality. If Darwin found himself at this particular party, he may have thought the cell phone to be an evolved extension of our arm. There is a sense of nakedness in not having one, really. Any lapse in confidence or social suave is immediately channeled to the cell phone, which provides temporary security. Texting is an electronic means for the insecure to continuously affirm and be affirmed and to avoid being alone with themselves.

There is a silent majority in our generation, though, that unconsciously finds this synthetic trend in socialization disagreeable. But in hushed disillusionment, they choose to embrace a culture that they are shallowly convinced is avant-garde.

The expectations of our culture shouldn’t force us to be who we are not. At some level, we retain our freedom to resist and fight before it’s written.

Coughlin is a first-year philosophy student.

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