Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Evolution of Social Interaction in the Digital Age

iPods. Blackberries. Cell phones. iPhones. Portable gaming systems. These electronic devices have become ubiquitous in today’s digital age, but they have drastically altered the nature of social interaction. Gone are the days when your younger sister would tie up the family phone line gossiping with her friends; today 10 year old kids have cell phones. The friendly banter with an attractive young woman on the morning commute has been replaced with the cold isolation of telltale white headphones. The pervasive nature of portable communication devices has introduced disruptive personal conversations to every aspect of daily life, from the checkout line at the grocery store to intimate dinners at a favorite restaurant.

Some may argue that these devices simply reflect one’s desire for isolation. The young woman on the Stairmaster with headphones in her ears is simply communicating her lack of interest in talking to any of the sweaty meatheads that long for her attention. The daily bombardment by various forms of communication simply overwhelms many, leading to a need for isolation and personal introspection. Text messages, emails, and cell phones lead to omnipresent accessibility and, for some, a constant need for wireless connectivity. The more introverted, however, wish to escape from the nagging nature of uninterrupted communication and unwind from the demands of their hectic lives.

As the digital age erodes the fleeting notion of personal time, it becomes important for people to respect the individual communication styles of their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. While some people may prefer digital forms of communication such as email or instant messaging, others will undoubtedly be more comfortable with the tradition and intimacy of phone calls or face to face conversations. The evolution of electronic communication has improved productivity and facilitated multitasking, but many traditionalists fail to appreciate the versatile nature of new media and loath the digital “paper trail” it leaves behind. Innovation will continue to alter the way people interact leaving us little choice but to adapt to an ever changing world and maintain respect for the unique communication styles of others.