Strengthening long-distance communication at the expense of near-by interaction
Guest Blog by Paul Glassco
Ten years ago, I was working at a giant CAD software company. At the beginning of annual employee meeting, a short video was run. First, the camera focused on a guy sitting at a kitchen table, texting away on his cell phone, and we can see his text stream and the responses. The camera catches another guy sitting across from him at the same table, also texting on his phone, but we cannot see his screen. They are both texting up a storm, with some grimacing and one hand gestures. Suddenly the camera switches so we can see the second guy’s screen—and it’s the same text stream as the first guy’s!
Everyone got a good chuckle; even I laughed at the hilarity of two guys sitting across the table from one another but using modern telecommunications instead of just talking. But it left me with a sad feeling—what is happening to the human part of human communications?
Our modern technology – the internet, cell phones and laptop computers with cameras, and applications like Skype and ooVo – strengthen our abilities for tele-Vision and tele-Hearing, making fantastic revolutions in human communications. People all over the global can talk, view each other and ‘stay in touch.’ However, that last phrase is a clear misnomer. We are strengthening telecommunications at the expense of the more human-scale and near-by communications. Vision and hearing have been extremely amplified, but at the expense of touch, smell, taste and warmth.
Thirty years ago, a friend and I visited an Indian reservation and archeological site. It was extremely quiet—no planes or jets, no cars, no radios, no nothing in the way of man-made artifacts other than the ruins themselves, which were of course quiet. Suddenly, I heard a terrific noise in sharp contrast to the quiet, looked up and saw about a mile away a single truck motoring down a seldom-used road.
Seeing and hearing are long-range as well as short-range forms of human senses, covering miles as well as inches. Touch, smell, taste and feeling others’ body heat are only short-range forms of sensing, requiring proximity of just inches to be at all useful.
It turns out that, through some perverse synergy, we have been able to amplify the already-long-distance senses. However, our technology has done little or nothing to amplify short-distance senses. As technology has ‘progressed’ it has helped those distal senses, as the low-hanging fruit of human ingenuity. But what has human ingenuity done to help the proximal senses? These are much harder to capture, digitize, transmit, receive and replay.
Have we made the best choices for furthering human intimacy? It would seem not, and this saddens me. We are taking the easy-to-mechanize senses, already overdeveloped in people, and further strengthening them. In my opinion, we need to focus much, much less on virtual reality and more on real reality—our everyday, close, intimate, sometimes inconvenient experiences. So-called ‘social media’ are actually making us more anti-social!