Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My uncle Bob

A part of the readings reminds me of my uncle Bob (for privacy reasons I made up a pseudonym for him). The reason I bring him up is that I noticed a significant difference in the way him and I communicate with people. For example, when we go out to places, he always seems to get into a conversation with a random stranger or if we are at a restaurant, with the person serving us food. These conversations rang from the weather, to business and even very personal discussions. This surprised me because I had always grown up in a family, and even a societal time where one kept to him or herself.

For example, I grew up in and around NYC nearly my whole life so I would spend a lot of time in the city. When I would go out or take the subway, everyone kept to themselves and I rarely bothered anyone. Sure I got into the occasional conversation with a stranger but for the most part, I felt it was rather difficult to spark up a conversation with a stranger unless the social situation was conducive to do so.

My uncle on the other hand did not play by the same rules. He was raised with a community that let down there social walls and talked freely to one another. He looked at every situation as a way to interact with people. He was not limited by social stigmas that inhibited face to face contact with people. Grumpert & Drucker write:

“Once upon a time, not so many years ago, people could go out into the city lights when the fancy struck them, when they had nothing better to do, when it occurred to them that it might be fun to be with others. They wandered out to the square to talk... to the park to stroll among others... to the public realm to vanquish loneliness, discuss politics, or simply talk. But it is no longer that time past, and old and familiar have become hostile and menacing”.

Because the “familiar” has now become hostile, many of us have reverted to digital communication to get our social fix. We feel less anxiety through cyber communities that break down the sometimes scary social boundaries necessary in the real world:

“there is something seductive about electronic communication with others, and we in the United States have begun to rely on mediated communication and even to prefer that mode to the old, particularly because it is safe, forgetting that there are qualitative differences between the two (Grumpert & Ducker)”.

We are losing the desire to interact face to face, something my uncle managed to avoid doing. He kept the old way of communicating and did not have the option of digital communication to fulfill his basic human need for social interaction. So what does it all mean?

I think the answer is very unclear and will be until this digital age plays itself out a little further. But I can speak for my own experience and say that I think there is a real danger for people who rely too much on digital communication to lose the ability to interact in the real world. Because of the ways in which we communicate on the net is so different from face to face interaction, spending too much time online could cause a type of social disability. Beyond this, I just think that real contact with human beings is necessary for people to be happy.

1 comment:

  1. this is a wonderful observation about the lost art of sociability!