"As human beings become increasingly intertwined with the technology and with each other via the technology, old distinctions about what is specifically human and specifically technological become more complex. Are we living life on the screen or in the screen? Our new technologically enmeshed relationships oblige us to ask to what extent we ourselves have become cyborgs, transgressive mixtures of biology, technology, and code. The traditional distance between people and machines has become harder to maintain....The computer is an evocative object that causes old boundaries to be renegotiated."Sherry Turkle
I have never met my best friend but I know him pretty well all the same. He lives overseas.
I have never met my other best friend but I know her really well too. She lives on the other side of the country.
I catch up with these two people more than I do my best friend who lives a few kilometres from my home!
What's going on here?
Two are my online friends and one is my RL (Real Life) friend.
I talk to my online friends more often than I do my RL friend. This has to be a significant shift in the way I manage my relationships with people isn't it?
Yes! According to Sherry Turkle, Abbey Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She suggests that we are now "tethered" to technology in such a way that we are shaping new connections and relationships via that very technology. These relationships are as real as any other relationship we might have despite there never being any actual physical presence.
She does express some concerns about this new trend. The relationships we engender through the use of communication devices is highly structured and more instantaneous now. Professor Turkle says that this trend is potentially making us less able to fully explore and experience our own emotional selves with the ability to think through our feelings, thoughts and actions. She says we may be losing the ability for self-reflection because of our interface with these technologies.
Self-reflection depends on having an emotion, experiencing it, taking ones time to think it through and understand it, but only sometimes electing to share it.Sherry Turkle in "I'll have to ask my friends" New Scientist 16 September 2006 Page 49
Our world is often described as becoming more complex. I am not sure I believe this anymore.
I think we are actually almost over-simplifying our lives through the use of amazing technologies that bring the world to our laps. We use emoticons and SMS to convey "states" of being to others now whereas in years past we may have taken more time - and possibly much more discretion - in how we said what we wanted to say to those close to us. These days we use more text to talk to people which forces us to be concise and perhaps, more forthright in the way we say things to people.
The actual relationship we have to our machines is probably in direct proportion to the relationships they provide us in terms of people. We have simplified the process of meeting, greeting and getting to know new people and staying in touch with loved ones. The more we rely on and need the people we are tethered to through our devices, the more likely it is that our devices will become real extentions of ourselves.
I know for myself, I have become fanatically attached to this computer and the internet connection it provides for this reason. Without this computer or that connection, I am bereft of those I call online friends. These are real people though, whom I talk with here and without whom, life would be a whole lot less interesting and wonderful! Without this computer and the software which makes it possible for me to communicate with them, it would feel like I could not be close to them anymore.
I AM part technologically enmeshed as well as biological in my makeup! Does this make me a "cyborg" or a "robot"? I think perhaps it might! I can no longer imagine life without the people I have met online as much I cannot imagine life without my RL friends!
And it is these little windows of computer, mobile phone, Skype, and VoIP that make me the cyborg I now am :)
It's not that I don't have time or want to be with my RL friends, it's just that I seem to be closer to my computer terminal more often these days and by virtue of proximity, it makes it easier to communicate with friends over VoIP and chat than getting together for "coffee" up the street. Organising "get-togethers" with RL friends involves more complexity than just seeing someone sign into a chat window and instantly communicating there and then; that is sheer simplicity really - instant and wonderful access to dear friends whenever that window is open and available!
Therein lies the difference in my friendships now. The constancy of communication is because its so much more accessible and immediate than it is in my 3D world. It's also much more flexible. A chat window can stay open for hours and the communication can linger over time while we do our "own thing" at each end without having to stop. It's high end multi-tasking really, working, living, cleaning house while still "talking" with a good friend!
I'm not so sure it's as bad as Professor Turkle suggests just yet, but I don't find these relationships any LESS wonderful or satisfactory because of this difference in communication style.
Thing is, these friendships online are as real to me as any other relationship. There is a sympatico empathy here that is as strong and as resilient as the relationship I share with my best friend down the road. I don't consider my online friends "virtual" friends at all! They are Friends! Pure and Simple! This IS my community as much as this place where I live.
If that makes me a partial "robot" tethered to my technologies then so be it. I would rather be a biological robot with a number of "Best" friends - online and RL - than a mere biological mess of muscle without either :)