The Isolating Internet

Digital Illustration of a surreal Woman

As time passes, I find myself more often than not feeling old. This is particularly true when I have interactions with people under the age of forty. 

First, let me state for the record that I am not old. 

I will be 59 on my next birthday, which according to my master plan, means I have not yet entered middle age. Yet as time passes, I am finding more reasons to feel disconnected from people born in the last three decades.

When my peers and I used to socialize, back in the Cretaceous period, a polite introductory conversation might have sounded like this"

"Hi, I'm Doug."

"Hi Doug, I'm John."

"Pleased to meet you. I haven't seen you at this golf course before. Do you play here often?"

"Once or twice a week. How about yourself?"

"I try to get on the course three times a week."

"Wow, you must have a lot of work flexibility to be able to play like that."

"Yes, I am semi retired and like to play as much as possible. How about yourself. What do you do for a living?"

What you may or may not have gleaned from this hypothetical conversation is that there is a passing back and forth between the speakers, each one prompting the other to contribute and reveal a bit about himself. Sort of like a serve and return in tennis or badminton. This sort of interaction happens easily between people of my generation and older. In fact, it seems to happen this way for most people who did not grow up using social media. Social norms have changed, and I blame the internet for the problem.

When I try to engage people in Gen Y or Gen Z in conversation, it seems to be very one sided. I will introduce myself and they will respond with their own name, but they rarely initiate any conversation beyond that. They do not usually make polite inquiries of me or what I do, but are more than happy to tell me everything about themselves when I ask. They seem to have lost the skills for common social interaction, and give the impression they don't give a damn about anyone else, but I do not believe that is the case. I think social media has trained them to this behaviour.

Gen Y & Z grew up with the internet and are intimately connected to social media. The hallmark of conversation on Facebook or Twitter amounts to a person making a posting about themselves: "I went to the Brave's game tonight. Boy, did they play poorly." 

The response to this from their online friends is to react to the original posting and the focus of the conversation remains, for the most part, centred on the topic or the original poster. The communication becomes one sided and if any of the friends wants the world to know about their current life activities, it behooves them to declare it in a post of their own. Social interaction has become an exercise in standing in the town square and shouting out the news about your life.

The result of all this seems to be a generation of people whose norm of social interaction consists of self declaration and little apparent interest in the lives of others unless they choose to declare. It all comes across as self absorbed and is a sad testament to where the internet is taking us.

It is ironic that something called social media seems to be contributing to the decline of social interaction. I wonder what other two edged benefits of our interconnectivity have yet to reveal themselves? It's good fodder for a science fiction author.

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