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For all the new and improved channels of relating are we any better at it - at relating to one another? By all measures that I consider dear to humanity - such as kindness, love, compassion, decency, helping one another, making certain no one is left behind or out in the cold - are we evolving up or down the scale of those measures as we incresingly connect virtually, not face to face? Are we conscious of any trends?
Forums. Social networking technology. Email. Video phones. Cell phones alway on us. Blackberries. Wifi. Is a new psychology of what it means to be human or to be in relationship arising? New stresses? Close a forum or ban someone from membership and their identity suffers?
What are the sociologists and psychologists saying about the virtualization of community and relationship?
After all, HE'S the one coming up with the thought-provoking posts these days!
I don't have any input on this one, Webwork. My identity isn't bounded by fora and posting therein. I am who I am. I'm the only one I'm qualified to discuss, and I'm certainly not a psychologist or sociologist.
On a serious note.
I've been privileged to host an online community in one form or another since the early 1980s. In that time I've seen an increasing trend toward people investing all of themselves in an online personality. The trend has been especially notable since the advent of the WWW. Lately I am seeing people who are shattered and turn vengeful when they lose access to that online identity.
Interestingly enough, it would seem the more invested one is in their online persona the less technical they are in general. That is to say, they're less likely to own a cellphone much less a Blackberry.
More to the point of the original post, even on a technical forum like this there's a huge amount of purely altruistic activity going on - hundreds of members helping others with problems, without any expectation of material benefit. (Add to that the effort of the volunteer mods & admins that keep the overall infrastructure and environment going.)
Other topical forums that I participate in also feature a lot of purely altruistic activity. Much of this simply could not have taken place before, since individuals often live in communities where finding good resources is difficult or impossible. (Imagine trying to find the same kind of specialized expertise in your local community that you'll find here... it's simply not possible. I see the same situation in other forums dealing with totally different, non-technical subjects.)
There's little doubt that our social networks are changing. I think it's a good thing, since we before we might have spent time sub-optimal personal connections due to lack of alternatives. (E.g., George is fascinated by architecture, and in particular the trend toward the use of advanced computer technology to design buildings that are sculptural in appearance. Unfortunately, George ends up spending time talking about football with his neighbor because nobody he knows shares his architectural interest. In our electronic age, he could probably find several forums to talk about Frank Gehry's latest confection and perhaps set up in-person opportunities to further his interest.)
The amount of altruistic behavior in many electronic social groups and the ability to network on any topic make me believe the trend is positive in most cases. A few concerns might be a "digital divide" in the short run, and perhaps declining interest in traditional social networks.
During the transitional time we live in, many of us have expanded social networks through electronic communications; many others, though, don't participate at all in these due to lack of access, fear of technology, etc. In the long run, these barriers will go away; those individuals who want to will be able to extend their networks.
The pressures on traditional social networks are more interesting. People's time is a zero-sum game. If a person spends more time interacting with people around the country and around the world electronically, something has to give. The affected activity might be TV viewing (no great loss to society), but it might also be participating in civic, neighborhood, school, church, etc. activities. This is reality; I'm involved in quite a few local community activities, but I've scaled back some secondary involvements due to to lack of time.
Does this mean local communities will suffer? Perhaps not. While they may lose some involvement as individuals choose more distant networks, there will always be many people most interested in their tangible local environment. Beyond that, groups that are purely local in nature may benefit from the ability to access distant resources or even GAIN participation from distant members as they form their own electronic presence.
The ubiquity of electronic social networks isn't all positive, of course. One often reads about people whose participation in online chat rooms (as an example of a network with relatively few societal, intellectual, or real social benefits) results in reduced attention to family members and friends, or even destruction of those relationships. Some social networks enabled by current technology may be even more damaging - terrorists, racists, crackers; individuals who might have been unable to pursue their perverse interests can now find communities of like-minded individuals to encourage them.
The next decade or two will be very interesting...
I don't wanna see this thread die either because its a very interesting topic.
Im not a sociologist or a psychologist, but I like the topic area, although my only venture into researching it was after hearing about Desmond Morris and the Naked Ape on this very site!
One of the points he makes that I can remember (which is a shame as he makes SO many intersting ones) was about the number of people in our immediate social group. He talked about how even those that live in large cities and have address books full with people they know, actually only maintain real social contact with a small number of them i think he quoted a figure but i can't remember it. I think in an update he mentioned this being true of peoples mobile phones as well.
So although I think "virtualization and globalization" of relationship is real i don't believe it increases the number we have. However, given the number of possible new relationships we can have hopefully we can have better quality/more useful ones as Rogerd writes above.
Sorry if its sounds like "twaddle" - but this post shouldn't die yet happy!
On a personal note this is the ONLY forum im a member even though i work in IT/educated in IT, i just cant be bothered with anything else (high quality relationship you see).
Oh apart from UT2004! ;-)
[edited by: Mr_Brutal at 4:24 pm (utc) on Dec. 8, 2004]
didn't mean to kill this interesting thread with that lengthy post... :)
Still reading it, rogerd, won't be too long now! ;)
there's a huge amount of purely altruistic activity going on - hundreds of members helping others with problems, without any expectation of material benefit
I'm not convinced that most of the activity is "purely altruistic" or that the member does not expect a benefit, even if that benefit is not purely material. I'm struggling with Google to find the appropriate research papers, but the effects of seemingly altruistic actions on the giver are beneficial in terms of both physical as well as mental health and well-being, as well as being a strong educational influence.
So, not only does it "feel good" to participate on a forum (whilst appearing to be purely altruistic), the act of participation in terms of answering a question (not just asking) is demonstably beneficial too - as condensing the knowledge you possess into a coherent reply helps the underlying concepts and facts coalesce more firmly, or pushes you to conduct further research from which you benefit as much or even more than the intended recipient.
There is also the question of the "digital divide", in the sense that it often there is an erronous tendancy to distinguish between online and offline activity rather than look at the two aspects as intertwined. Whilst the internet can act to break down barriers of distance, culture or language, an individual is rarely fundamentally different in their online versus offline personas. Online participation may augment or alter the level, intensity or spread of an individuals social interactions, but it is not the environment which is crucial to the development of those interactions.
An individual's online persona is a natural extension of their offline existence, and in much the same way that one might react with hostility to a refusal to accept your established identity in an offline situation (such as a prisoner feeling dehumanised when issued with and addressed to by a prison number rather than by name), in an online stuation the same is true: remove a user name which a person considers part of their natural identity, and you are denying them the possibility to express themselves through their established persona.
In some respects, such as those were gaining knowledge changes us, the virtual life is likely to have a significant effect. (If we can sort out knowledge from opinion, etc.)
In some respects, such as 'our persona', we may grow depending on our good fortune or lack thereof in whom we 'virtually meet'. If you are prone to become the better man/woman by virtue of not being fixed in your self-construct then virtual encounters can aide growith. Gained insights, including new ways of looking at the world, can often be mined from forums.
In some respects, the virtual life can be an improvement and an impediment. If you are shy and 'don't go out much' the WWW can give you a channel of contacting others - whilst keeping you at a safe distance. Likewise, if you are a nut, malcontent, evildoer, thief, etc. the WWW extends your reach and may amplify the harm you do.
However, beyound doing more of the same or the same stuff better with some side benefits my question remains (for all to answer) "Given what we know now and the trends we can see or predict do you see any fundamental changes in the evolution of humankind?
Will those with elegant voices now fall behind to those with better typing or writing skills?
Will those who sound good on paper begin to gain social advantages 'in community' over those who in the past got ahead on their 'good looks'?
Will trust take on new dimensions when the people we meet virtually can be entirely a fabrication or a myth?
Will people move ahead faster in forming real world relationships once they meet in real time - after spending hours connected virtually OR will the bad habits and vices of real interaction ("he smells", "she preens too much") lead to an endless number of disappointments?
Will we lead more elaborate fantasy lives? Feel more secure online?
Here's a good one: Will what's worst about humankind only get worse in the world of cyberrelationship?
The 24/7/365 connected world: Is it driving humankind towards a more evolved, kinder, gentler, more connected view of the world OR are we hardwired in such a way that this business of virtual unrelenting relating is going to turn out badly? (We'll all have carpel tunnel syndrome, be nearsighted, and?)
Will the connectedness drive us towards a more uniform, more global set of expectations when it comes to courtesy, polite behavior, etc?
Webetiquette becomes the norm of human etiquette?
I wouldn't hold my breath. IMO, the reason some forums are civil is because they are moderated. (Of course, moderation sets the tone which is carried forward by members on their own.) Unmoderated forums almost always degenerate into uncivil behavior, profanity, etc. Not all members participate, of course, but in that respect forums are like real life - there are nice people, and not nice people. Moderation keeps out the bad 'uns, and the not so bad 'uns learn to play nice while in the forum.
but this is nothing new; as technology enables greater communication and education, it enables greater kindness as well. the world today is a far more civilized place than it was five hundred years ago.
as for identity, technology helps to shape that as well; as computers and machines are able to do more and more of what previously was able to be done only by humans, the question of what exactly it means to be human naturally arises -- albeit at a subtle level. the question, though, helps each one of us find our identity and purpose.