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Is meaningful interaction dying out via tech?

Meaningful interaction

You’d hope meaningful interaction isn’t dying and it’s not yet time to worry about futuristic outcomes that seem to dominate TV/movie concepts recently, but there is cause to worry.

For example: while many companies aren’t even remotely there yet (ha) on embracing remote work (see how I made that funny with the “remote” parallel? I’m good.), many people do work from home or a coffee shop a few days per week. (I’ve seen it as high as 40% in some studies.) Wi-Fi is everywhere in the first world, so this is certainly a possible concept. That’s less meaningful interaction, because you’re emailing and Skype’ing with people, not doing the whole face to face thing.

Now let’s say you live in a suburban neighborhood, where fences are normative. That’s also less meaningful interaction, also that has less to do with tech and more to do with real estate development. But when you need toilet paper, f*ck the store. You’ll Amazon that. Less meaningful interaction with neighbors. You need food? Favor, Hello Fresh, Fresh Direct, etc.

It starts getting to the spot where you could probably string together 3-5 days straight of no meaningful interaction with the outside world, i.e. other human beings. You might be closer with Alexa (“Start the dryer”) then you are with some of your siblings.

This should worry us, right? A bit?

Some other quick hits on meaningful interaction

Just for reference: per research, loneliness is on the rise globally, as are feelings of social isolation and general nervousness about social life. For those three to be peaking simultaneously isn’t great. We all also know the restaurant deal: go to a restaurant, see a couple both on their phones, make a snarky comment, then do the exact same thing yourselves.

David Byrne on this topic

Good article in MIT Technology Review by the musician, including this:

Human interaction is often perceived, from an engineer’s mind-set, as complicated, inefficient, noisy, and slow. Part of making something “frictionless” is getting the human part out of the way. The point is not that making a world to accommodate this mind-set is bad, but that when one has as much power over the rest of the world as the tech sector does over folks who might not share that worldview, there is the risk of a strange imbalance. The tech world is predominantly male—very much so. Testosterone combined with a drive to eliminate as much interaction with real humans as possible for the sake of “simplicity and efficiency”—do the math, and there’s the future.

While you can argue this is a bit over the top, it’s also almost 100 percent true. We tend to deify Silicon Valley and the great products they give us, but it’s also really easy to see where our grip on what’s actually important is starting to slip into our $1,000 smartphones.

How social media fits into this mess

Hate to break this news to you, but social media on face does not constitute any form of real relationship. If someone retweets you, they don’t “respect your views.” Most of your Facebook friends over about 50-100 are going to be largely superficial. When I add you on LinkedIn, we’ll probably never interact professionally again. (If we even did to begin with.) You can turn social media into relationships, yes. Not arguing that. Social Road Trip would be an example. But it takes another step. On face, social media cannot be considered meaningful interaction.

For this and a host of other reasons, it’s probably making the general rat race worse. And now we come to the ultimate paradox:

Most connected time in history, but most alienated time in history. 

You think scrolling through Insta and seeing awesome vacation photos of your friends isn’t alienating to many human brains? It is. So we can know so much about superficial connections of ours (HS friends!), and yet … do we really know anything about their life, that trip, or what motivated that NYT share and rant? We don’t.

So we have the gloss but not the meaningful interaction. Hmm.

Can we fix this?

Can we? No. You do this at an individual level. Here, I’ll give you my life as an example.

I’m 36. I’ll be 37 in November. Most of my similarly-aged friends have kids and mortgages. I’d like kids, could do without a mortgage, but I got divorced this March, so let’s go ahead and say I’m a ways away from both. I also work from home and well, live at home … so I could easily go days without meaningful interaction. Depression can get in the cracks easily, and I also have 2,200 Facebook friends (you like that humble brag? I bet…), so a simple log-on can be a spiral here and there.

So in this type of situation, how do you find meaningful interaction?

  • Reach out to people locally
  • Call people
  • Text people
  • Join new events and organizations
  • “Do 2 things a month that scare you”

That last one is direct from these boards I have in my room to motivate me to be a better person. Seeking out meaningful interaction, whether female or male, is a part of that. Who ever in history got where they needed to be without some friends and confidantes along the way?

So what do you think: are we trying to swap out meaningful interaction for tech? And what does that all mean?

Ted Bauer

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