One of my all-time favorite movie trilogies is the Matrix. My number one all-time favorite is Blade Runner, but I’ll save the analogy to that movie for another day. In the Matrix all humans “live” plugged in to the outside world through cocoons that facilitate all of their interactions electronically. They see, talk, hear, feel, taste, etc through nasty cable connector plugs that connect to their brain through the back of their head. No physical interaction is necessary; it’s all done electronically.
I first noticed the Matrix at the airport and on the M in Washington, D.C. Everyone was plugged into their iPods or their laptop, no talking, no looks, just zombie-style existence moving through the day. Everyone is in the same place but very much alone.
The Matrix also lives on planes, trains and automobiles, where individuals text, IM, surf the web, and talk on their phones. No face-to-face interaction, only electronic communication.
The Matrix is also disturbingly showing up in the classroom. It’s no secret that many (most?) students are on Facebook, Google Chat, Twitter, and email consistently during classes, including during the middle of lectures by professors in college.
My kids have grown up in a world where they didn’t know the Internet didn’t exist before. They have grown up in a wired world with a multi-tasking perspective that is all about connections. Technology by itself isn’t necessarily a good thing or a bad thing; it’s how it’s used that determines good or bad, so I’m just providing some observations about impacts I’m seeing. I think we can safely say that social media has increased the ability of all of us to be, well – social – at least electronically, but with networks much more diverse than we were able to maintain before.
But what price do we pay for social media? Is social media decreasing our ability and comfort with communicating physically, through face to face interaction? After all, when Neo emerged from the Matrix, his body was weak, he had to heal and build strength before he could survive in the real world!
While I’ve been amazed at the amount of interaction that an individual can maintain through social media, I’ve been slightly underwhelmed by their ability to translate that electronic interaction into physical interaction. Furthermore, the decline in effective communication skills and ability to deal with confrontation, conflict resolution and relationship building is an alarming trend that does not bode well for the future of my Digital Youth.
No one talks to each other at the gym or on the bus. In the real world, people might Google Chat about life issues, but not ask questions verbally. I’ve seen individuals in group settings who remained silent during group meetings only to unload all their thoughts in a brain dump email after the meeting was over. A number of folks even question the value of meeting face-to-face period, saying “we can all just figure it out through email.”
I think it is an easily drawn conclusion that the more you use social media, the more comfortable – and reliant – you become on it as a means of communication. We all know it’s tough to introduce yourself to someone face to face, and it seems that my Digital Youth are practicing that interaction less and less.
I spent some time researching this topic, but was unable to find a direct answer to my question. There are a number of articles posted on both the perils of social media usage in the classroom, and the potential benefits. One article proclaims that continuous connection to electronic devices is killing face-to-face interaction, while another suggests it could actually create dissociative disorder. I found a couple of people asking the same question, one from his video blog, and another who realized he was being unsocial while on his computer during a Superbowl party. There is even a survey trying to figure out the answer!
So the ultimate paradox is that I’m using social media to both vent and pose the questions. Social media is supposedly all about dialogue and creating conversations. So…is social media turning us into the Matrix? As electronic communication facilitates more and more of our daily interactions, will it decrease our real world ability to connect face to face, or at the very minimum, devalue face to face interaction?