While it was over a century ago that Elbert Hubbard said “The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it”, this observation seems to be more and more true as the 21st century unfolds.
Nowhere is this more evident than in electronics. Though it’s easy to take things like the Internet, mobile phones, and personal computers for granted, examples of how electronics reshape our world are plentiful: the US boasted hundreds of millions of dollars in support to Haiti after the recent earthquake, much of it possible because the average person could text a number and donate ten dollars.
Ten dollars doesn’t sound like much compared to hundreds of millions, but so many people donated, partially because it was so easy, that the effect was massive. Other large-scale examples of this are also near at hand, but I think for most people the effects of the electronics revolution are far more personal.
Just this summer actually, Facebook, the somewhat new phenomenon in social networking allows me and many others to live a dramatically different life than I might have. Instead of saying goodbye to friends until the next summer or even forever, I can keep up with them as we all begin college and life outside high school.
More than that, I can do homework, talk with friends, make plans for the night, and print that essay I almost forgot about this morning wirelessly, and all pretty much simultaneously. I can text or message my friends in Oregon and California on their birthdays. And when I am writing essays, the Internet is, as we all know, a god-send for research.
All of that being said, I understand the claims that there is a difference between physically talking to someone and texting or messaging them on Facebook. There certainly is a different feel to hearing someone’s voice and being able to see their facial expressions.
Comments about Skype aside, this is an interesting, but ultimately unimportant concern. Certainly, our generation is “out of reality” more than any other before, and some might say more than any other was able. I would disagree however.
Practically, what has really changed in virtual/escapist devices is their usefulness. A generation ago, if you wanted to escape reality you could read, play Dungeons and Dragons, Etc. The difference between now and then is that now when I use cyberspace (or the pre-21st century equivalents), while I may still just be looking for entertainment, most of the time I am talking to my friends or being productive.
I would argue that far from being harmful, Facebook and the like have redefined and expanded how our generation interacts with the world around us. Far from the contrary, we are now able to maintain gigantic networks of friends which we can actually keep up with.
We can choose who we talk to and when to talk to them in a completely unprecedented way, and still have time at the end of the day to work on homework, even if it is sitting in traffic on the way to Seattle.
Every generation has something that defines it, that people can look back on and associate with one generation. For our generation, that is the social network and the seemingly limitless possibilities the Internet offers us.
We may look at and interact with people in a new and different way, but that isn’t any more harmful than the invention of the telegraph – a landmark innovation I certainly wouldn’t argue against.