Saturday, August 11, 2007

So here is an interesting observation which really isn't that surprising. I have been playing around on Facebook (yes, I have an account there now -- and no I will not be going back to myspace) and I was searching for people that went to Greensburg-Salem High School. Obviously I started with the year I would have graduated (Class of 99) and then went a few years in each direction and I realized there was an explosion of people in the class of 2001. Check out the number of people that are on Facebook by their class year:

  • 1996 - 3
  • 1997 - 7
  • 1998 - 12
  • 1999 - 21
  • 2000 - 18
  • 2001 - 45
  • 2002 - 47
  • 2003 - 82
  • 2004 - 94
  • 2005 - 101
  • 2006 - 138

It's obvious that younger people are more involved in social networking but I don't think it's the issue of technology that most think it is. It was really the early 90's that interest in computers really started taking off. Granted, I was interested in the 80's but the 1990's brought computers into everyone's home. I was the last person in my group of friends to actually get a "real" computer and that happened in middle school. Is it possible that it has to do with emotional attachment and filling a void that was created by technology?

The reason I left myspace a few months ago was simply because it is no longer what it was intended to be. People say it's a site to connect with people that you haven't seen in a while. When I first got my myspace account, that happened frequently but as time went on, it was obvious that it was drifting away from being that. Facebook, on the other hand, has a lot of ways to interact more but, more importantly, has important "social blocks" that help prevent it from becomming what myspace is now. For instance, there are no such things as "top friends" which means you don't have to pick favorites (which you are forced to do on myspace). You also have a lot more searching power on facebook but you are limited to who's profile you can actually view. You have to be a member of a network to see people's profiles in that network (unless they add you). You are able to search for anyone using very specific criteria but it blocks the ability to just randomly search for people and add them as your friends. Essentially, on facebook you have to know what you are looking for, where on mypsace you don't.

So what is the big deal about whether you are able to search for someone based on random criteria? Well, in almost all cases those random searches are for the purpose of filling a void that isn't being met in real life. So many people are hiding behind their computers now and they are not experiencing what life is really about. Technology is an amazing tool that allows us to connect with and keep in touch with people around the globe but at the same time, it is taking the focus of what friendship and relationships are all about. Giving someone "a hug" online will never be able to take the place of giving someone a real-life hug. We try to push the experiences that technology can give us and we create "features" that pull us away from what life was meant to be. SMS messages, email, instant messages.... we are tied to this network 24 hours a day because it's now not only on our computers but it's on our phones and other mobile devices. We are now even ordering pizza online to avoid having to talk to someone on the phone... think about it.... we're using technology to pull us away from a technology that took us away from physical interaction. Yes, phones did that. Instead of having to go to your friend's house and have a conversation you could now talk to them even though they were across town. Now that technology is progressing, telephone calls are too personal for us. Maybe this has a lot to do with why the online pornography business is booming.... we don't want to have to deal with relationships anymore so we see millions and millions of people turning to pornography which attempts to give sexual satisfaction without the ties of a relationship -- or even a friendship.

I am as guilty as the next person with all of this but I have slowly been realizing a lot of what I was stuck inside. The irony of the situation is that I lived in 3 different apartment complexes during the time I lived in Northern VA and out of all of that I met only one neighbor at only one of those. That's more than 2 years of living next door to hundreds of people and I met one. Now I live in the mountains where there are only 2 other houses visible from my house and in only a few months I know them both. Think about it -- where is technology at? It's in the cities... the higher the population is, the more technology is available. Where I live, I consider it a blessing that I can get a cable modem but in NoVA, you have countless options for getting faster internet connections and a lot less to do outside of the apartment or house. I love going to Shenandoah National Park because it helps me realize how much more there is outside of cyberspace. I realized how much I had been missing by being 100% embedded in technology and going to the park cuts me away from technology all together. To me, it is a blessing to not have cell phone coverage while I'm in the park -- it forces me to realize more about what the world is.

What changed for the class of 2001? I think it's probably the generation that really started losing touch of the importance of spending time together and how important other people were to our lives. There is nothing wrong with the fact that more and more people are using social networks or using cell phones or any other kind of technology. I use technology all the time and it is a huge part of my life but I'm slowly realizing that it's not the use of technology, but the motive of using that technology, that is important.

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