The world is becoming increasingly digital. We do our shopping online, build our businesses online, spend our downtime online, and even make life-long friends online. As of July 2020, 59 percent of the global population were active internet users. Bringing us closer to commodities, the internet is set to become an even bigger part of our lives.
Technology is a fast-paced market, and every pioneer is in a race for first place on the podium. New innovations are piloted every day in a desperate attempt to sell what the masses will buy—tools to make our daily lives easier. As older generations warm to the idea of utilizing technology in the face of a pandemic, we move eerily closer to a world where social interaction is primarily digital.
But should we look at this as a positive or negative change? Will human interaction strengthen or suffer as a result of new communication technologies? In this article we will explore the good, the bad, and the ugly truth of technology’s impact on social interaction.
There is no denying that the internet has had a positive impact on human communication. Compared to pre-internet times, we are now more connected than ever before. Here are some of the ways that technology has a positive effect on social interaction.
Instant global communication
Most of us now have the means to contact people on the other side of the world immediately. No waiting for the postman, messenger pigeon, or message in a bottle—technology has broken down the communication barriers that distance once presented. It is a phenomenon that is commonly referred to as globalization.
Video calling apps like Skype and Zoom mean people can now experience emotional connections without having to be in the same room. This has been especially important throughout the coronavirus crisis, where families from separate households were forced to stay apart. The day the UK lockdown was announced, Zoom was downloaded 2.13m times around the world—up from 56,000 a day two months earlier.
Technology has also made finding love much easier, with online dating increasing in popularity. A report released last year predicted that more than 50% of couples will meet online by 2035. The same report found 47% of people believe online dating makes it easier for introverted people to find love.
Similarly, people who would otherwise have limited social interaction now have the option to be part of online communities. People with disabilities can forget about their physical boundaries inside a video game universe, while socially anxious people can gain confidence by practicing interaction over the internet instead of face to face. Sending messages allows people the time to process information and formulate a response, whereas face to face is more immediate. On the other hand, this isn’t always a good thing.
Some would argue that the more anonymous and less immediate interaction associated with digital communication is bad news. Behind the screens of smartphones and the keyboards of computers, there are also more chances for deception—particularly for vulnerable people. Here are some of the ways the technology has a negative impact on social interaction.
Decreased human contact
More and more people are beginning to rely on technology to communicate with their loved ones, friends and associates. The coronavirus lockdown that forced millions of people to work from home also accelerated online communication tools—meaning we get even less human contact than ever before.
As remote working becomes the norm, transactional processes are automated with self-service machines too. The increase in the use of technology to communicate could also cause a rise in loneliness, especially among elderly people who may rely on these transactional encounters as their primary source of social contact.
A rise in bullying
Technology has also made cyberbullying possible, and children are now particularly vulnerable to harassment online. While cyberbullying is a worry for children, it is also becoming a common challenge among adults too. Results from a YouGov poll conducted last year showed that a quarter of adults have experienced cyberbullying. Given the disheartening rise in suicide among victims of cyberbullying, it is clear to see that technology is not always a healthy source of social interaction.
Catfishing is the practice of creating a fake online identity with intent to manipulate, stalk, or abuse a specific victim. It has become a scarily common activity among dating sites and social media platforms and is the subject of a popular MTV reality TV show. A 2018 survey saw 9% respondents say that being catfished had affected their mental health.
A platform for predators
Technology has also provided a platform for online predators to pursue their victims. And as UK schools closed during the coronavirus lockdown, children were on their devices a lot more often and faced with a sudden drop in social interaction. While there is not yet any overwhelming evidence to suggest the pandemic caused an increase in predatory activity online, The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has said reports to their CyberTipline increased by 106% during the first months of the pandemic.
The ugly truth
Whether we see it in a positive or negative light, or even a mixture of the two, the truth of the matter is that technology has had a huge impact on the way we communicate with each other. While it allows us to make instant connections with people on the other side of the world, it also puts us at risk of loneliness, as well as new forms of harassment and manipulation.
But as new technologies are unveiled to the world, new laws and safety measures are likely to be put in place too. These aren’t likely to protect everyone from the negative effects of technology, but it also rests on our own shoulders to use the internet with caution. Equally, it is our own responsibility to ensure we get enough real-life human contact in our daily lives, in addition to digital social interaction.