August 6, 2009

The Refresh Culture

Back before Christmas, I was waiting for a big work thing. It was set to be announced via the internet. I had a browser window I never closed totally dedicated to the site. I refreshed it often. So often, in fact, that I became a little paranoid, convinced that geek ninjas would drop by in the night, disabling my computer or revoking my internet surfer's license so that I'd stop overtaxing their servers with my rapid-fire requests. It was kinda pathetic, actually. The thing finally hit the net in February. A lot of refreshing happened.

In retrospect, it hit me that I wasn't just this way with that specific thing. I'm this way all the time. And I suspect a lot of people are.

I'm an immediate gratification kind of guy. This behavior shouldn't surprise me. I'm networked, plugged in and connected - blog, smartphone, text messages, email, Google Voice, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and GoodReads are all part of my daily vocabulary. There's pretty much no way you can't reach me. And I can be gotten instantaneously. And get others, information, and feedback instantaneously too. And apparently that isn't quite fast enough.

At the same time, something else is going on.

I'm not a phone person. I'd rather use IM for quick questions and conversations. I really do realize that email is a fairly inferior form of communication but I tend to prefer it over the phone as well. And while I know that meetings do have to happen, that face-to-face conversations are vastly more effective, well, I'd like to avoid those. Because while I sound all extroverted, I'm really quite the opposite. I'm hyper-aware of these tendencies and do my best to ensure I don't disadvantage myself in the process. So it's curious that I've noticed the same things coming out in others. Phone calls instead of face-to-face meetings. Email instead of phone calls. Texts instead of email. While we're all trying to gather tons of information, opinions, see what people are saying in response to us, we're also, bizarrely, physically distancing ourselves from one another, from those from whom we seem to so desperately want input.

This all, somehow, when thought about together, seems perverse.

Is technology making you more or less social?

Posted by Chris at August 6, 2009 6:38 AM

Definitely more antisocial. When I think back on all the time I used to spend with my friends on the phone - after college, during law school - it's mind-boggling. Whatever did we talk about? Now I screen the few calls I get and respond via email or Facebook. Lame.

Posted by: Gayle at August 6, 2009 7:28 AM

When you get to the stage of IMing your husband about a possible cup of coffee when he is sitting across the room on the other sofa....I'd say yes.

Posted by: ChocolateChipWookie at August 6, 2009 7:59 AM

Less. Hubby and I have his and her cell phones and laptops. We can literally sit in the same room and send jokes back and forth on the internet. Our laughter echoing the others.
And like you, although I come across as outgoing online, I tend to be less so in person.

Posted by: Maribeth at August 6, 2009 8:24 AM

Less, for sure. Not that I ever WAS a social butterfly. But with IM's, texts and emails rule my life. I would much prefer to "chat" through one of those forms than an actual phonecall. The exception being my sister and my boyfriend. I can talk to the two of them for hours on the phone, anyone else, and after about 30 seconds I want to say "can't we just move this to an IM or something?"

Posted by: js at August 6, 2009 8:32 AM

Let me play Devil's Advocate here, and argue, no, it is making us more social, but the nature of it is changing.

Take your blog for example; twenty years ago we most likely would never have met. Now, I know more intimate details about your life than people I deal with in a physical sense every day. So proximity clearly is not it.

I have 150 some friends on Facebook ( and I've always been consistent of not accepting random friends, and only accepting people I know and have had some history with ). I check back to it every few days ( blocked by firewalls at work ) and have learned more about what my friends are up to and how their lives have progressed in a few minutes of scanning than a gaggle of class reunions ever could have. I've rekindled old friendships, gotten the chance to say the things I couldn't before ( but always wanted to ), and share in their lives in a way that without tech, I never could have.

It's true, I don't make many phone calls. But the ones that I do are to friends who I really want to TALK to; the ones for whom a slight inflection change speaks volumes, and the ones for which there is no way that an interactive chat or email can come close to the bonding feeling of hearing their voice. But I do email and chat with those same friends at times when the need to talk is not so great.

And finally, I have more ongoing conversations with people ( and I suppose in some way, systems ) than I ever do when I am off the Net.

This really comes down to a question of the medium; to put it in relative terms: you need only very little bandwidth to transmit a text message, but you only get a very simple message. When you have physical presence, you are transmitting a huge amount of non-verbal information ( body language ) that really you would need one of those spiffy holographic projectors to transmit properly. Some messages, conversations, and even relationships can be comfortably maintained in small bandwidth medium; others need the full on quantum level of presence.

But I do think that an unexamined life ain't worth living, and kudos for seeing that and thinking about it. The next real interesting question is: Mia and Owen will be growing up in a world where it is taken for granted that "always on, always there" communication is available; what will their social networks and interactions look like?

Posted by: metawizard at August 6, 2009 8:33 AM

Definitely less social. Depending on the person, I don't mind a face-to-face, but it's embarrassing the lengths I will go to so I don't have to talk on the phone.
I like to keep in touch with people, but if it weren't for email/Facebook, I might be a lonely hermit living in a cave.

Posted by: Akofaolain at August 6, 2009 8:44 AM

It allows my anti-social tendencies to be less noticed, as I find email less annoying than phone calls, etc.

Posted by: Hannah at August 6, 2009 8:56 AM

I am totally for the less social approach but I think I was slightly antisocial to begin with... or maybe that is socially ackward? Both perhaps?!

Anywho I THINK I am way funnier, more articulate, etc through technology then I am in person. I liked A Brave New World a bit too much as a teenager - SOMA SOMA SOMA ;)

Posted by: Christina at August 6, 2009 9:00 AM

Considering I could copy and paste this entry into my own blog and have it be perfectly valid, I'd say that tech makes me less social. And it's kinda sad.

See, I found that as my high school friends moved away and made lives for themselves in other places, we were able to keep in touch via the 'net. However, somehow that precluded my ever going out and meeting NEW friends who are in my own geographic area.

Seems lately, all my friends are just pixels on a screen.

Yeesh... that was depressing. Um... meow?

Posted by: Martin at August 6, 2009 9:14 AM

I have to agree with a somewhat shy person the Internet provides a way for me to share my thoughts and feelings more easily. I have many people I consider friends that I have never met...including you and Beth...and keep in touch with friends down the street through email / IM because of our crazy schedules.

I believe the Internet has just made it easier to be social after it made us more accessible to work demands.

PS--Can I copy this post for part of my disseration? It is one of the questions I am trying to answer...

Posted by: Krush at August 6, 2009 9:27 AM

I think on a daily basis it's made me more social. I'm more likely to text or IM someone instead of picking up the phone, but I can also keep up with friends and family easier because I can chat with them while I'm at work, instead of finding time to actually call. A couple people I make an effort to speak to on the phone, but largely I am more in touch with people because of technology, not less. I've also made some great friends through my blog, friends that have moved off-line that I never would have made without techology.

Posted by: Rachel at August 6, 2009 9:54 AM

I think that metawizard sums the majority of my feelings brilliantly. It's about changing context and perspective in terms of how we view socializing and also in the amount of effort required for the specific social encounter you are involved in. Some are much simpler via IM, text, etc. Other's certainly do require face to face contact (never ask someone to marry you or dump them electronically!!).

I personally like that it allows me to parcel out my time more judiciously. Let's face it, we all have friends or family that eat up enormous amounts of time unnecessarily. Whether it is because you have to filter through all the additional BS of the relationship dynamics (thinking of my sister here where most comments end up being veiled accusations or some long ago, but not forgotten by her, imaginary wrong wrought against her), or because some people are just CHATTY!! Sometimes, as much as I may love that person or need that information, I just do not have the time to devote to all the niceties and ego soothing activities navigational maneuvers to get my answers. So I just email, text, whatever and then call them back or see them later when I can devote time to their neurosis and them to mine without feeling rushed or having to be rude. I find that this has helped my relationship with some family members and friends greatly.

It's a tool...the trick is to not let it control you and turn you into a, well, tool (in every sense of the word).

Posted by: Varinia at August 6, 2009 10:35 AM

When I'm in the middle of something, I prefer instant messages instead of phone calls. There's a "culture" to phone calls - greeting, small talk, closing, etc. With IM, there's no expectations for proper etiquette - you just ask a question, get an answer, move on with your project. I find it so much less intrusive.

And my experience with face-to-face meetings is that they're a waste of time because invariably, one of the meeting "leaders" gets sidetracked and you're there for hours listening to football stories from his coaching days 30 years ago. Or the topic will take a left turn onto politics and you're just sitting there watching the rest of your day get hijacked.

But then, I'm an introvert too.

Posted by: Amy at August 6, 2009 10:50 AM

Wow, great post and great comments too! I'd have to say that technology has made me more social for all the reasons that others have already mentioned. I like interacting with others, but I'm not very good about placing myself in situations where I can do so. I find that I'm really only in social situations while at work or while at the kids' activities, and those places are not always conducive to me behaving like myself. I'm kind of quirky and I definitely have an off-the-wall sense of humor and I'm not very good at reigning in either of those aspects of my personality so I'm sure many people just think I'm weird! But through the magic of the internet I am able to seek out the type of intelligent, humorous, witty people who appeal to me and that I would surround myself with IRL, if I could just find them!

Posted by: Elizabeth at August 6, 2009 11:09 AM

I am a lonely hermit living in a cave.

Posted by: Pat at August 6, 2009 11:10 AM

i'd say i'm like you and it all makes me a little less social. if social were only defined as face-to-face.

i'd say thinking about my mom in 1980 raising two toddlers (myself included) 11 gravel miles out from the nearest small town at the edge of the oregon coast, with only a party-line and the sears catalog for communication puts it in perspective for me. even if i'm just communicating in emails and facebook snippets, i'm plenty "social".

Posted by: kati at August 6, 2009 11:43 AM

Very interesting discussion today.

I personally LOVE to talk on the phone. Of course, that being said I do like texting if I am not in the mood to talk.

I also agree, those with us with social anxiety--can easily interact and have friends more easily via the net than we can comfortably do in person.

Have a great solo day! :)

Posted by: debb at August 6, 2009 12:08 PM

I'd say more social.

Honestly, I'm not a super outgoing, social person in real life. If you meet me I'm really quiet in a crowd, but one on one I'm chatty. Online I do a lot more "talking", leaving comments on blogs and chatting on Twitter.

I hate using the phone and only have a cell because at one point the phone company was going to take 4 months to install our line. I almost always forget I even HAVE a phone. I'm a texting virgin. (oo!)

The people I know in real life aren't as into computers as I am. None of them blog or know what Twitter is, so it's like I have a double life-an online one, and an off line one. So far, neither have met.

Posted by: Scattered Mom at August 6, 2009 12:08 PM

I'm not a phone person no matter what. My friends at work are all, "Facebook? Why don't you just call your friends?" But these are people whose friends are close, within distance to pop out together for an evening. Their families are close.

My friends a family are far away. My friends have jobs, husbands, and kids; they have busy lives like mine. But all day long, we have Facebook up in the background. All day long, I can read the minutiae of their lives as if I were able to be there, listening to my pseudo nephew learn to pronounce "Fork" or watching my only pseudo-niece grow. I don't get to do that "really" so I do it virtually. I am already sad and lonely when I read that they are arranging play dates and dinners together. They get to do that; they live close. But it's something, that I am in touch with their lives.

So, I'm not as "social", I guess, but I'm more connected.

Posted by: Brooke Habecker at August 6, 2009 12:22 PM

Hard to say, since I do all of it. I haven't stopped talking on the phone, but it can be easier to get someone this way. IM, Texting, Tweeting, I do it all and love it all.

I will say, Twitter and Facebook are down right now, I think the internet is broken...and it makes me feel all twitchy. Basically I think I have a HUGE problem. :)

Posted by: Issa at August 6, 2009 12:41 PM

I'm a social person already but I didn't have a lot of opportunity to meet new people. With Twitter, Facebook, and blogs (like yours), I "meet" new people all the time and find a way to meet them in real life as well.

Also good for meeting new people via the internet because there's no awkward moment. If it's awkward, you just let the reply time lapse, or don't reply. IRL, you'll be staring awkwardly around the room trying to come up with something else to talk about.

So, I'm more social this way. :)

Posted by: oakley at August 6, 2009 12:52 PM

I think technology in the form of the Internet has made me much more social - my blog and the news feeds from my friends on Facebook.

However, I have disconnected my Internet at home because I realized I spent all of my time on it and not enough time with my dogs and out in the world.

Yes, I also have one of the simplest mobile phones out there and have disabled texting and data services because number one, I'm cheap. However, I think it's also more because I like to actually talk to people.

And finally - my ex-husband had the whole blackberry thing and now has an i-phone and the thought of being without technology for a whole week scares the shit out of him. I on the otherhand went camping for a week where there was no cell phone coverage, and frankly it was really nice.

Just my two cents.

Posted by: Heather at August 6, 2009 1:17 PM

I've thought about this a lot, since IM went from "allowed" at work to "required". We are getting farther apart... and yet, expanding our minds intellectually. Our CPU speed has increased, but the software is getting dumber.

What to do? I have very good friends whom I'm losing touch with. They are the most Internet-connected family ever and even though I love technology and the Internet, I see that as a problem. We've grown further apart. Then again, I have friends who I would otherwise rarely communicate with, whom I've had a resurgence of great communication. That's been great and fun.

So, in the end, the good friends and the periphery friends all end up in the same Facebook or Twitter pool, swimming together as equals. There is give and take in that. I haven't decided if either 'give' or 'take' is winning.

Posted by: Brad at August 6, 2009 1:19 PM

I know I have some friends I'd rather IM because I know if I get on the phone with them I'm facing AT LEAST an hour of my day gone....

What are GoogleVoice & GoodReads?? I'm not familiar with those two....

Posted by: Rose Winters at August 6, 2009 1:25 PM

actually, your situation sounds a lot like mine (minus the big work project) because I really prefer IM'ing, email & text over an in-person conversation which is strange considering I am so outgoing.

Posted by: La Petite Belle at August 6, 2009 2:02 PM

Okay, I answered my questions. I found Goodreads and added you as a friend. I don't write awesome book reviews, but it's nice to keep track of what I've read....

I googled Google Voice, it sounds kinda interesting :)

Posted by: Rose Winters at August 6, 2009 2:11 PM

less. like you, i prefer email to phone. i tell myself that is because i worked at a call center and just got tired of the phone, but the truth is, i'm actually kind of introverted. and technology allows me to increase my isolation.

Posted by: jodi at August 6, 2009 2:57 PM

Definitely more social.. but for me that is huge as I am painfully shy. The internet allows me to intermingle with people I would never ever speak to.

Overall though I have to agree, the internet allows the average person to be less social.

Posted by: Angelia at August 6, 2009 3:46 PM

I a bit of both really. At first I am reserved then once I get rolling I am wide open. I hate email for conversations. I work in a job where I have to talk things through and negotiate quite a bit. Email sux for that. Best is face to face.

All this social stuff is making me more social and introducing me to all sorts of peeps.

Posted by: DCUrbanDad at August 6, 2009 4:25 PM

I go to events to see my friends I met online. I occasionally see my local friends, all of which I met online. I've been making friends online for 22 years now (started at 13). This is as social as I get. :)

Posted by: Poppy at August 6, 2009 6:37 PM

That's interesting about phones! I never thought of a phone as an intimate medium before, even though I had marathons on it same as a lot of teenagers who grew up where local calls weren't charged by the minute.

And you know? My mum would yell at me to stop tying up the line and go talk to my friends in person. She said phone calls were for lazy people.

Nowadays, we can keep in touch with friends who once would have perhaps been lost because of prohibitive long distance rates.

And we all worry we're being anti-social.

Something wrong here...

Posted by: Kat at August 6, 2009 7:48 PM

I really dislike talking on the phone to begin with (just one sister I can talk for hours) so I love email, voicemail, Caller ID (a Godsent!), facebook, and IM to communicate with family and friends. BUT, I probably have better connection with them now because of all these mediums.
When certain people make comments about my "obsession with the computer" or my love of FaceBook I ignore them. I have found long lost elementary school friends, my college roommate and one of best friends from across the hall through FaceBook. Best of all, my college which closed in 1980 the year I graduated is having an official Class Reunion of all classes in the fall because of the power of FaceBook.

Posted by: NancyJ at August 6, 2009 8:04 PM

The internet has allowed me to take risks that I wouldn't normally make in my sobriety. I'm inherently a shy person. My blog has helped me in so many ways to be able to share things I wish I had vocal words for. It's getting easier to share them outloud, but it's still hard. I consider this my preparation grounds for reality.

Posted by: k8 at August 6, 2009 8:10 PM

I'm sort of on both ends I think. Before social media took over the world, I definitely talked on the phone more - but then, I was a high school girl :P But there are more "distant" people I talk to and connect with.
Also, it allows a sort of low-level connection with a lot of people.
That said, I think I like seeing people in person better than either the phone or online :)

Posted by: Heather at August 6, 2009 8:39 PM

I Robot......Asmov.....Anybody??????

Posted by: joss is boss at August 6, 2009 9:50 PM

I Robot......Asmov.....Anybody??????

Posted by: joss is boss at August 6, 2009 9:50 PM

more social - agree with metawizard.

I was having a conversation with a friend about this (in person) a while ago, and I think that this online social interaction thang is going to be what this age is going to consider as its biggest contribution.

Posted by: Lisa at August 6, 2009 11:03 PM

I think the book that Joss is talking about is actually The Naked Sun which is one of Asimov's robot books. That book details a murder investigation on a planet called Solaria (I think that's the name) where people have a phobia of face-to-face contact and all communication or interaction is remote. I have to say that any time the question of social contact in this day and age arises I think of this book and certainly hope we never go to that extreme.

Posted by: Elizabeth at August 7, 2009 9:23 AM

Technology is just allowing me to be who I was before the cell phones and Facebook: an anti-socializing loner. I hatehatehate to talk on the telephone. Despise, I say. So, when text came along, I was all "Score! No more phone calls!".

On the other hand, more people than I'd like now know I'm still around due to Facebook. And that makes me more social that I want to be with the bitch who used to sit in the front row of English class. (She's still a whack job)

Either way, I'm glad to have the options, I guess.

Posted by: Rebecca at August 7, 2009 1:41 PM

I am a HUGE fan of technology. My iPhone is on me at almost all times - and am readily available by text, Twitter, Email, phone (if you *HAVE* to call me, I suppose I gotta use up those minutes somehow. Seriously - my rollover minute #s are insane). When I'm at home, I've got Skype up and then four other IM accounts open via Digsby. Dork much? Yeah.


Though you think it'd make me more antisocial, it hasn't. I met a few people via Twitter that lead to a writing gig, that led to a conference where I hung out with all those people for a weekend in Nashville. And then, I met more people. And then I spent the weekend drinking and hanging out with people at BlogHer a few weeks ago (but not actually ATTENDING blogher because I didn't really give a shit about the conferences/seminars). And then there's the woman I met via Twitter who ended up being my walking partner for the Avon Two Day Walk for Breast Cancer in chicago - by the end of 40 miles of walking, we were no longer "internet strangers" - I'd definitely count her as a friend.

The thing is, I'm a total INTROVERT. These means of communicating are awesome for me - because by the time I'm face to face with people? They know me pretty well and vice versa. The shell that I have that makes it hard for people to get to know me is somewhat dissolved when peeps have read my blog for a long time, or we've been chatting on IM frequently or whatever.

So, more social. That's my vote. Definitely more social.

Posted by: Sarah at August 9, 2009 10:32 AM