GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 3, 2013

How modern technology isolates people

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — Problem: Lately, you’re feeling more distanced from others as you spend your day communicating with answering machines, voice mail and email. You are not alone in these feelings. Many people today often believe that modern communication technology keeps them disconnected emotionally and physically from their fellow human beings.

Now we often conduct much of our daily business by phone and computer rather than through personal contact. We order things we need from automated-response phone systems, and talk to no one as we do our banking at the ATM or online. Many of us spend time, money and energy on the Internet to chat with people on the other side of the globe, but make no effort to talk to the people across the street. It sometimes seems that technology has narrowed our humanity even as it has widened our world.

Why have we allowed this to happen? Probably because we do not know quite what to do about it. It would be difficult to avoid technology today; it’s like trying to hold back the ocean. For good or bad, and probably for both, technological advances continue and are here to stay, constantly affecting and changing the way we live, including how we relate to each other.

And we do relate to each other differently technologically than we do in person. Communication technology provides a buffer between us and the people with whom we are communicating. We are better able to keep our emotional distance from people when we don’t have to deal with them physically or react to them immediately. Yet, even as it protects us, modern technology isolates us. As a result, we lose the important benefits of physical, mental and emotional contact with our fellow humans.

So, what can you do to overcome today’s communication barriers?

Solution: Work to maintain in-person contact with the people in your life, and use technology to meet new people. Examples:

Invite friends to your home for regularly scheduled casual, in-person, socializing and ‘catch-up’ sessions.

Create a bi-weekly or monthly discussion group around topics of interest to friends and acquaintances each inviting a new member who has particular interest in a designated topic: current events, politics, science, art, music, photography. The group could meet each time at a different member’s home adding some variety to the setting — or not.

Make lunch or walking dates to talk in person instead of speaking by phone or using email.

Occasionally stop by briefly (only with friends who don’t mind unannounced visits) at friends’ homes or offices (again with permission) just to say hello. I know many painters and photographers in our wonderful and large Cape Ann artist community who very much appreciate and encourage visits to their studios.

Use the Internet (if you’re not online, perhaps you could use a friend’s service or libraries in our area) to find organizations and clubs where you can meet new people who have common interests. Currently online, there is a myriad of what are called “Meet-Up” groups: “Culture Vultures” who meet at museums, attend concerts, etc., “Over Thirty, Forty, Fifty and Sixty” groups, “Meet for Dinner” dine around groups, “Discuss Philosophy, or Politics, or Science” groups, “Gardening Groups,” “Sports” groups, and almost any activity in which you might have interest.

Make an effort to call, instead of going to the computer, and make arrangements to connect with others personally as often as possible.

Of course, these new methods of communication can afford meaningful, and more frequent opportunities to connect, even “in person” through a service like Skype, where there were not opportunities previously available to some. And the world of information that is now available to us, on any topic — from how to boil an egg, to “TED” talks (18-minute talks on innovative approaches to technology, education and design), including university lectures, news from around the world, product resources — is simply amazing. How fortunate we are to have so many options. However, in my view, it is important to remember to make communication choices that bring us together rather than isolate us.

Based in Rockport, life coach and psychotherapist Susan Britt, M.Ed., a former university director of counseling and career services, teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at susanbritt1@verizon.net or 978-546-9431.