TED Conversations

Tiger Flynn

General Manager, Red Stag Management

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The Internet: Has it made us more or less social?

I believe that whilst the internet, used well, can open up so many more social possibilities for everyone, I feel that it has made us more insular too.

Maybe not TED users so much, but a lot of people using social networks have ironically made us more tunnel-visioned than ever. When I look at how many of my friends on Facebook use it to reach out for acceptance of almost every facet of their existence I find it a sad state of affairs. Cry-for-help statuses, choosing the best profile picture and so on.

It also makes us more lonely. For example if someone has experienced a terrible break-up and posts increasingly desperate statuses about it, less and less people like it and comment on it making the poster feel even more alone.

The way we reach out is different now and has expanded our horizons in a way not possible even when I as a teenager (I'm 30 now) is incredible in many ways. But the focus on the self and how to best represent it has become for a lot of people their raison d'etre and has made us more insular.

What does everybody else think about this?

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    Oct 23 2013: I think the internet neither made us more nor less social but only changed the way how we interact with each other.
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    Oct 31 2013: I just watched the most recent talk by Abha Dawesar about "life in the digital now" and I think she brings up a good point about a digital illusion. So many more of my tasks every day are committed to sharing it on social media, that I often lose track of being in the moment and realizing that time is not data - and time can never be replaced by it.
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    Oct 28 2013: Both. How can a person justify if he loves more to live or more to die? It is all related. I say that if Internet were not there we could not have this wonderful platform to share our ideas sitting miles away from each other, in different countries, not knowing each other, yet helping each other with the jumbled thoughts surrounding our mind. But if there again is a point of misuse of information we provide on social media like Facebook or Orkut or anything and see the problems and daily instances of hacked accounts, fake accounts. The Internet crime is not a new idea to any of us. People misuse what they should have properly used. I would say all of this is very much dependent on human psychology. Human beings have a close circulation on thoughts. They make haphazard decisions not on what is right or what is wrong morally, but to what they consider is right or wrong. The hackers are not really wrong, but to the atmosphere or social atmosphere, to be precise, that they faced was pretty different than what any other scale of population might have faced. It's all on the type of environment that a person is brought up in. Human beings get molded in any direction at a tender age. The Internet does not really guide them for that. So yes, Internet is surely something more than a boon and something less than a bane.
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    Oct 26 2013: It is a question of both spatial and emotional distance.

    The fact that we are collectively engaging in this Ted Conversation with peoople from around the world demonstrates one way that the Internet makes us more social. Groups of people can also engage in real-time exchanges and massively multiplayer games without ever seeing each other. However, to th extent that individuals withdraw into a virtual world or use ithe Internet as a substitute for meaningful conversation or live connections with friends and family, then the Internet can make people less social.

    So the definitive answer is: "Yes, the Internet makes people more or less social."
  • Oct 25 2013: It is true and undeniable that Interet has shifted the way we interact; hence, the way we tend to perceive things.

    I strongly believe that internet, used wisely, can result pretty benefitial for the users. while, tending to use internet badly will definitely bring bad outcomes such less privacy, low self-esteem in certain cases or perhaps isolation, or even worse, the lack of reality perspective.
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    Oct 20 2013: I didn't say it's primary agenda. I said, that internet makes us think and feel that we are social. The membrane is metaphor for creation your ideal identity you would like to reach (self-promotion, self marketing, as you said so) but when you look your reality it's full of insecurities, complexes, so you rather run away into your virtual reality... Only the illusion of sociality is available the internet. Also... veliki pozdrav ;)
    • Oct 21 2013: Indeed, and it might negatively effect one's personality development, in a sense that "the membrane" allows individuals "run away" instead of dealing with their insecurities.

      Also, mozda gresim, ali ljudi sa nasih prostora relativna retkost na ovom forumu, iz nekog razloga... Moderatoru se nece svidjati ovaj kligonski jezik kojim pricamo :D
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    Oct 20 2013:

    It has made us social
    more in quantity
    less in quality.
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    Oct 18 2013: quantitatively or qualitatively?
    • Oct 20 2013: Quantity is quality when defining sociability. ;-)
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        Oct 20 2013: Thats new to me, can you explain?
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          Oct 20 2013: I may be wrong here.......but Gord's winky face may be indicative that he said it with tongue-in-cheek.
        • Oct 20 2013: In the strictest sense social is the interaction of organisms. If interaction is the defining quality of being social then quantity of interactions becomes the indicator of quality. The quality of the interaction is defining the interaction not the act of being social.

          I think a bizarre example of this idea is Facebook friends. Displaying the number of friends was a brilliant way to tap into our evolutionary instinct to form social bonds (a bit like an arms race). Another example would be a punishment we reserve for the most heinous criminals...isolation.

          BUT Mary was right...I was chuckling at the silliness of the notion.
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        Oct 20 2013: I was plying naive on purpose to get you going, Gord and Mary almost blew it! ;o)

        I don't quite buy your definition on social interaction, because if it was true, I would never have felt 'aöone' among other people I was interacting with, as I felt, and cashiers in the supermarket would not need special 'friendliness' training as they get.

        My approach is more focused on the 'purpose' of social interaction, and for this its quality is highly subjective.

        'Facebook friends' to me are nothing but the inflation of an already highly diluted term regarding its meaning.

        Yet as I said, this topic is highly subjective.
  • Nov 14 2013: It seems to me that social commerce and social media are only magnifiers that bring attributes and personality traits to the surface that the person already has. A whiny person in real life is going to be substantially more whiny and high maintenance on Facebook when they begin posting about a break up. A positive and optimistic person is going to explode your news feed with inspirational memes and quotes.

    I do agree that the veil of social media has seemingly dumbed down the accountability that some feel in their virtual communities, and also that there is a false sense of emotional fulfillment that comes from social networks. All in all I believe this contributes to the actual traits being a magnified and an exaggerated version of reality and what is really felt. What would you say and do if you felt little to no accountability for it?
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    Nov 12 2013: I've found that the Internet makes us more of what we are: I've found people to be incredibly friendly to others while others have taken advantage of their anonymity to be complete jerks.
  • Nov 7 2013: My roommate met his current girlfriend on the internet. I spoke with her briefly online, was charmed and understood why he felt he had to meet her in person. When we all met face to face there was a component of our interactions that was completely missing with her. Her facial expressions gave absolutely no clue or window into her mood or thoughts. I was thrown off and left the two in peace; thinking that I may have been intruding. Afterwards, I was informed that she quite enjoyed speaking with me and wished I would have spent more time with them.

    Sadly, proficiency in online interactions does not translate into that same facility with personal ones. I always wonder when I meet people now, what in fact is going on in their heads. Without emoticons to convey their feelings, often they stare at you blankly and you walk away thinking yourself a nuisance. In the same way that a poorly worded text message drives a wedge between two people who would otherwise get along well, so too does this lazy presentation of yourself to the world around you.

    I believe this stems from a reliance on words to convey too much. In short...we talk too much. :)
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    Nov 5 2013: I think the internet, at the moment, made us less social. Because the internet is primarily text-based, it's hard to convey tone and gesture. It's so easy to misinterpret things online or through an IM and therefore it's equally as easy to feel isolated. Perhaps one day there will be a way to convey these subtleties in the human language but until then, I'm not sure the internet can every provide the intimacy that talking to someone in person can.
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      Nov 10 2013: I agree with your analysis. On the other hand, perhaps because I'm retired and of an age when proper grammar was rigorously emphasised in our education, I enjoy labouring over my internet text communications (and although I have a number of dictionaries close to hand, am a big fan of the spell-check function).
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    Nov 3 2013: The only thing I could conclude from my experience is that I remain as a social creature as before...
    I still need social companion and forms of modern day grooming, friendship and relationships.

    Being able to communicate across my local boundaries is an advantage, and sometimes I don't go out because I can satisfy my social urges by being behind my laptop.
    I do still need physical and face to face contact. Internet cannot replace that.

    I do wonder what your appreciation of "cry for help" in face-to-face or group situations is... (compared to those cries in social media) Do you think those people would be more or less lonely if they would cry out in public? I really don't know.
    Or standing in front of the mirror or wardrobe to select your best outfit for the occasion? Is that so different from trying to make a good online impression?

    For me, I would tilt internet in favor of my social life: I met a huge number of interesting people (sharing same interests) in real life, because I organised meetings through use of social media or participating in events where such people go to. (I wouldn't have been a TEDActive attendee or TEDx organiser otherwise).
  • Oct 23 2013: Because anyone can be whoever they want the world to think they are on the Internet , it has made me take a closer look at myself and concentrate on being more authentic and transparent , firstly with myself. Has it made me more social , probably , but not on the Internet.
  • Oct 21 2013: I believe the Internet has given courage to those who were (and possibly still are) afraid of physical interaction, but the opposite has also allowed people to say things they would never have stated in person. Take cyber-bullying as an example; there are more and more cases popping up daily which would never have happened (most of them) as the bully wouldn't have the courage in real life. They can hide in anonymity and behave as no one would expect.

    You will also find that some people are losing their ability to hold actual conversations let alone converse with one another using complete sentences. Watch a group of kids/teenagers/young adults at a coffee shop. You will notice they'll all be on their phones, tablets, laptops, etc. and barely speak a word to one another. They will sit at the same table and converse through electronic means rather than talk directly to the person sitting no more than 3 feet away from them.

    The introduction of the social media avenues has allowed our society to share things which would typically never be shared, to encourage actions which would not be allowed, and to make rash decisions without ever doing any of our own research. Now with that being said, we also have access to more information than ever before. We can research, verify, and validate just about anything. We are faced with an almost over-abundance of information and the access to it.
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    Oct 21 2013: most of us are hiding behind our pcs and afraid of going out and talk to people.because its hard for us to have face to face contacts with others.its much more easier to chat online.we have time to think about what we are gonna say.isnt it true?
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    Oct 21 2013: Absolutely, we have to face to our fears and insecurities... but it's another dimension of this problem. In this conversation, we just gave our "ascertainment" about that kind of social life, if we could call it that way.

    Also, jako sam srecna sto u tom pogledu nisam "usamljena" na ovom forumu. Sigurno smo moderatoru prava misterija,mozda misli da koristimo neki sifrovani recnik. :) ^^
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    Oct 20 2013: I agree internet is a double edged sword. But about social networks its more of show-biz. Why the need to say "I am bored" or "I am tired" as facebook status. Aren't their people around us to listen to us. Why can't we reach out to them, and share these feelings? Cause, we have isolated ourselves in a way. We cannot reach out and trust people present around us. Facebook could be used in good way. Think in this way, that people from different fields, diverse cultures come can connect. Now, it remains in our hands to how to use this connection. If we take some problem and try to find some solution to it via discussions on this platform, then its a good usage. But, sadly majority people use facebook only for trivial things. Things which we can share with people physically present around us.
    Personally I am part of some forums on facebook. Which provide help about design softwares, or which provide research papers to those who do not have it. But after a time I have found the interest of members is found to dwindle. Queries questions largely start to go unanswered. Compare it with forums like Cr4, or cite communities etc. These are found to be doing a real difference in terms of usage of social media purposefully. The time we spent sharing photos and mundane status updates, the same time egypt created a revolution in Tahrir square, all via the same medium.... So, blaming the platform or the internet is not the solution. Its we who need to change our attitude!!!
  • Oct 18 2013: As every coin has two faces
    and it is always how u look upon things
    The thing about social networking sites they are morely now used to share ones problem no one talks about the general affairs
    Its all getting personal
    Ya they often share some issues but never try to resolve it
    As base on the Internet
    its awesome to be connected with million
    but actually u r alone
    Instead of having group chat people should conduct rallies and social awareness
    THE ALL OF MY WORDS IS internet BRINGS AWARENESS but many just keep in mind ignoring inspite of Reacting....
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    Oct 18 2013: I believe Internet have bring, the common interest people together; take any e.g. the one who want to show off, the one who want to explore, the one who love music, the one who love creativity, even Positive and negative website have their own group. but understand like every moment is different every day the mood and interest level is different so internet gives us the freedom to choose, today though internet is used like invented wheel; but very soon it will be caged with price tag and various speed level authorization. just enjoy this phase. And Social is a norm which everybody want to but feel outcast by other interest group members.
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    Oct 18 2013: I think you have asked a good question. I think the internet has brought a huge range of communicational possibilities to people. It makes people more sociable in virtual world. That also possibly lures people to flee from their real world with some trouble. Some people feeling lonely in real life change their faces more easily on the internet than in real life to make friends. So if the virtual world and reality go with each other, people can benefit from the internet being more sociable.It's very complicated.
  • Oct 18 2013: The internet is just another tool, like any tool it is up to the user to determine it's usefulness. Like a hammer, you can use it to build a house or tear down a house.
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      Oct 18 2013: Yes.
      "If the only tool you have is a hammer, the world looks like something to hit at" (Abraham Maslow)
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        Oct 20 2013: There is another quote I read in an Alzheimer's book......speaking of ineffective doctor's.......

        "When all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail"
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      Oct 20 2013: Great point Keith.
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      Oct 21 2013: Keith, Joshua and Mary M.
      I am on the list of people who say the internet is a tool, and as I was reading the introduction to this conversation, the quote you provide came to my mind. I've heard it as..."If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything will look like a nail". In my perception.....this suggests tunnel vision.

      The facilitator of this discussion writes..."people using social networks have ironically made us more tunnel-visioned than ever."

      In my perception and experience, no one can "make" us tunnel-visioned. What we do on the internet...how we use the internet...who we choose to interact with on the internet are choices we make as individuals. Another choice is the on/off switch, which if used occasionally, provides time and energy to pursue other life adventures, thereby "balancing" our life experience:>)
      • Oct 21 2013: Thank you again Colleen, I was going to weight in on the misguided quote by the institutionalized Doctor Abraham Maslow but I figured you guys would see right through it and figure it out your self, and you did. Truth is a wonderful thing, when all the bullshit has settled, it is left standing like a mushroom that has pushed through and shining in the sunshine but only for those with eyes who see.
        My early social studies were filled with the likes of Maslow and Freud, I saw through them then and they are even less relevant today. Unfortunately there publications will last for generations and some people will read them as if they were true.
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    Oct 17 2013: Internet is just a tool to connect , communicate , explore and so on ...... I don't feel it can make anyone more or less social .....
    Let's forget Internet for a while ..
    We all live with in some social norms / boundaries , did that turned us social / unsocial to same extent ?
  • Oct 17 2013: Think the internet and technology has changed the way we socialize and the level of civility. We have bullying and trolling.

    There was a study done by the Rand corporation in the 1980's concerning the affect of e-mails and they found arguments were sharper and lasted longer because of the lack of emotional contact and personal contact.
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      Oct 20 2013: So you could say that the internet has made us more confrontational?
      • Oct 20 2013: I think people instead of asking questions looking to see the other person's point of view, makes statements and becomes more obdurate. So yes, we have become more confrontational.
  • Nov 15 2013: I like QQ
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    Nov 15 2013: Its increased our mental sociability - the exchange of ideas. It's certainly great for introverts and people who don't like pubs, clubs and other crowded social areas. Physically, its making us fat and unfit unless we can pull our selves away and take the dog for a walk.
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    Nov 15 2013: There is a saying that you cant turn back time .
    There is one thing about the social networks that bring our thoughts to the world ,
    at least to ever who we allow to see .
    So in that sense there is a projection of our thinkings no matter how trivial they may seem to others .

    It allows us to hide away and be secure in our homes , coffee shops , or just in the park
    the point is there is no chance of immediate dismissal of our thoughts so we are safe for the time being .
    it takes us away from real personal face to face real flesh personal communication .

    It is almost like a fantasy you can be whoever you want to be , some people choose to lie and deceive the world
    some people dont and just air all their dirty laundry , forgetting you cannot erase something after you hit the send ,or
    submit button
  • Nov 15 2013: To make the Internet a positive influence on sociability, the user had to first have a firm grasp of an identity. The Internet is a great place to meet people, share ideas, and learn. It is not a place I discover who we are. That is done through introspection and loving relationships. Many social media users are negatively impacted by the Internet because they use their identities with their online selves, leading them to experience detachment in face-to-face interactions.
  • Nov 15 2013: I think that social media can help people discover and explore new ideas and through this, they may meet new and interesting people. It may also help people stay connected to friends who are very busy. However, I agree that often, social media can cause people to be more insular. It does depend on the person. One thing that I frequently observe is that people can be very unkind in what they post on-line. It is not uncommon to see snarky comments even here in TED conversations (and I admit that I too am sometimes tempted to hurl back an insult.) People seem to behave differently with this (relative) anonymity. I feel like most people would never say the things they say on-line at a dinner party. I have noticed other anti-social behavior as well on-line. I have one friend, (in particular )on FB who tends to consistently post very downer content about a past relationship ... it is a cry for help but I notice that most people do not respond and when I respond to show support with a phone call, there seems to be no improvement. This is very strange and it seems as if this person is using social media as more of a personal (venting/purging) diary ... I am not sure where the "social" part fits in there?? I had the unpleasant experience also of seeing my wife's FB friend ( an old friend from H.S. who was reconnecting on FB) basically implode with bizarre posts just prior to her suicide. We tried to reach out ... in person ... but again ... the posts seems more like a public diary and our attempts to connect in real life seemed futile. It is very tragic and unsettling when people use social media in destructive ways.