How could the great sc-fi writers of the 60s and 70s (and even the 80s) have known how prevalant cell phone and social networking would become? They sorely underestimated the digital age, that's for sure...
Okay, wait, let's not go into an indirect, fact heavy commentary about this. Let me explain my thoughts with a story.
"Welcome to Story Time, with your host, AR Norris."
A friend and I stood in line at Starbucks, waiting to order our coffee. While we talked my eyes did a cursory scan of the room, and saw a sea of scalps. Blonde, red, burgundy, brunette... heck even one a medium shade of green.
People in line or waiting for their drink orders, groups at tables, couples at the cooshy chairs. Almost everyone had eyes to screen. I pointed this out to my friend and we began "the discussion" about how cellphones and social networking have ruined society.
Yet, as we nagged the topic to death, two teenagers waiting for their drinks caught my attention. One giggled and the other elbow jabbed in return. Watching them, I had a moment of clarity (of sorts).
They both leaned against the counter facing out away from each other. Both of their heads were bent down over their cellphones and fingers typed furiously. But they didn't type at the same time. One would type. The other would laugh, chuckle or smile then type. The first would then facially and/or physically respond before typing. They didn't once look, or share these reactions or expressions with each other.
They were having a conversation same as my friend and I, but nonverbally and without eye contact. My friend reached the order counter and I took another, closer, scan of the room with my new eyes.
The couple sat doing something similar as the teenagers but by their occasional hot glances and gooey grins it was a more romantic conversation. The group of friends at the table were doing a more complex version and occasionally sharing their screen with the person beside or across from them.
Maybe cell phone and social networking isn't killing our ability to be socially connected, but rather killing the art of face-to-face dialogue.
The digital age may be transforming the way we communicate with each other, not ending it.
Now, I don't know what this means for the future of humanity. It is too early to tell and too new a change to judge in my book.
I do know that we're reaching a tipping point where we'll either continue down this path towards a less direct mode of human interaction, or future generations will turn away and seek the more direct form of human connection.
We've seen both happen to various cultural and social precedants. One example is the children from the 80s and 90s who grew up in the work, work, work, era... becoming the "Latch Key Kids". They felt it, and the absence of family and values behind it. Because of this, as they've grown they've leaned back towards the quality of life over the quantity of life.
With this, though, our technical gadgets continue to change our everyday lives. We haven't pushed back yet. I think it's because it's still too early in the evolution. We haven't hit that proverbial fork in the road.
The scary part for me, who grew up in the pre cell phone/social networking era, is... what will the world at the fork in the road look like?