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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Is technology really causing social isolation?

Of course there are many people on both sides of the divide. There are those who long for the good old days when people actually took the time to sit down and talk to those around them, instead of being glued to their devices. And there are those who maintain that those same devices are actually instruments of communication. Me? I love these devices, but I also think they're being used as crutches in awkward social situations where you don't want to interact with people around you. I'm guilty of that as anyone else.

I was having dinner the other night when I happened to notice a young family at the next table. Throughout the evening, both parents were on their mobile phones  practically the entire time, either texting, viewing something or, I think, playing games. Their little girl was kept occupied on a tablet, playing a game by herself. She tried interrupting her parents once or twice, only to be told to go back to her game. My heart sank at the sight of this family, each one in their own world, totally disconnected from each other.

I'll be the first to admit that I can't live without my mobile phone. There have been times where I've gone to work, only to realize upon reaching the office that I had left my phone at home. I would drive home again (fortunately not too far away) just to retrieve it. I use it to communicate with, of course, but also to find my way somewhere, view videos, do research and play games when I have a few minutes to kill. My darkest secret is that I've used it to have phantom conversations with someone else on the line, just to avoid talking to someone else next to me, like in the car. I know, right, how pathetic is that?

Everywhere I go in the world now, on trains, in buses and cafes, everyone is glued to their phones. I have no problem with that. On a tedious journey, it's a great way to while away the time, and really, practically an alternative to reading the newspaper or a book. I've had many a meal by myself in a restaurant, where in lieu of reading material, I will be on my phone. There's nothing wrong with social media per se. I get it that people nowadays have limited time to get to know people, make and keep up with friends. Even dating sites serve a useful purpose. Social media can be as personal (or impersonal) as you want it to be.

What I do have a problem with is people who remain fixated on their phones while being in the company of others who matter to them. Like family and friends. It's okay to take an important call that can't be ignored, but checking Facebook or Instagram or Twitter at the expense of paying attention to these important people in your lives is disrespectful.

So no, I don't technology is causing social isolation. It's people themselves who are the cause. The couple who stuck their little daughter with a tablet are going to find out soon enough that she doesn't want to talk to them at all, preferring the company of a device to their presence.

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