TED Conversations

Meg Robinson

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What constitutes shared experience in the twenty-first century?

How has our concept of shared experience evolved, particularly in light of digital technology? Are we more or less connected to one another? Is there a qualitative hierarchy of types of communication which are more or less fulfilling?

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Closing Statement from Meg Robinson

Sumesh, you make an excellent point about this hypothetical factory worker. For many people, it could be the case that they have mundane and perhaps difficult relationships in the real world. For these people, access to a broader array of people through digital communications is a form of enrichment and expansion of one's intellectual and emotional life.

To summarize, there are many types of shared experiences in our lives – some of them are in person some occur digitally. They each have advantages and disadvantages but the mixture of the two will be a part of our lives in the 21st-century. The key point is to be aware of the inherent strengths and weaknesses of each form of communication so that we do not live an unbalanced life where the digital takes over face to face in person relationships. We need to take charge of when and how we use technology so that we retain the richness and depth of what it means to fully human.

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    Jan 18 2014: A hypothetical scenario:
    Adam is factory worker. He manages to discuss his 'ups' and 'downs' in life with his fellow workers during breaks and during hazard-free periods of work. Despite the relative menial work he does, he is able to also feel productive and important when he is able to reciprocate help and advice. He values his work mates, and when he is off work he catches up on gossip at the gym occassionally and engages in the routine socialising of family life (wife and child or mum and/or dad etc). Adam is content with his life and experiences a healthy balance of fulfilment and lack of.
    Now let us consider this?
    1. Adam engaging in social contact that is more hostile and oppressive, his gym contact is overly competitive, and his marriage or home life is under strain.
    2. Adam interacts with only one of the 3 groups and is quite happy since it resonates with his quiet, introspective nature
    3. Adam is very unfulfilled despite all the mundane yet well meaning advice he gets and yearns to interact in a more intellectually stimulating way,
    4. Adam understands his work colleagues much better and finds his texting and virtual interaction highly cerebrally stimulating. He is better enlightened and aware of social issues that stimulates more conversation when he does engage at home and elsewhere.
    ...
    The alternatives can go on ad infinitum or ad nauseum. How you perceive interaction is arguably all that matters.
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    Jan 18 2014: Our shared experiences have conditioning differentials. That creates differences in reactions to the same experience shared. The digital technology is replacing these conditioning differentials with conditioning integrals. This, IMO, is changing communication in a fundamental way which is both good and bad.
    Good is that we have way more information and choices compared to olden days. Bad is that human brain has certain information handling limits and we can foresee an overload. If overloaded, our brain will keep information processing pending for long and huge number of choices can diminish the satisfaction value of making a decision.
    It may lead us to a paradox where we will be capable of making better choices with lesser fulfillment.
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      Jan 18 2014: Pabitra, Information overload is a problem and relevant to how much we can attend to any one relationship. We probably have a limit to the number of close relationships we can maintain. I'm not sure what you mean by conditioning differentials and integrals, but I understand your point about more choices resulting in less fulfillment,
  • Jan 18 2014: I largely agree with Hannah.

    A shared experience can be connected through communication, but it could also be an experience that two people mutually endure in life, together or apart.

    In light of digital technology, we have many more options to write, watch, and read than ever before. The challenge is to use your time effectively and prioritize. The different communication forms also have different levels of inter-personal value. We have the capability to be connected to many people now, much more so than 200 years ago. Our communications outputs have the potential to reach mass audiences in a matter of seconds. I think this has increased the overall power of the individual relative to all other people in the world. However, time spent interacting with a machine has reduced time spent interacting with other humans.

    The hierarchy of types of communication I think depends a lot on the existing relationship with the receiving audience. A text between lovers is important, but doesn't replace a hug or holding hands during a walk on the beach. This response from me may be read by others, but since it is your question, probably means more to you than most others.

    For a parent, grandparent, or any person with a big family, chances are nothing will replace time spent together, but texting, emails, etc. might be not as good as a phone call, skype, or letter, but certainly better than nothing at all. For a person that is isolated by health, economic conditions, geography, or has no family or friends, this type of communication might be very meaningful. So, there are probably some general levels of human interaction that are more precious than others, but the digital technology enables a lot of communications as well.

    I think the thing to watch out for is when you start trading conversation at a dinner table or being in the presence of someone you love for digital communications with others.

    Hang on, my wife just walked in, so I think I will give her a hug.
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      Jan 18 2014: Robert, Thanks for your comments. I agree that for people in more isolated environments, digital technology opens the door to a much richer social life, even if it is not in person. I have seen this in Skyping with cousins Singapore, and a nephew in Hong Kong, not to mention my own children. . In my particular case, one of my sons has a disability and is learning to live on his own. Our Skyping with him is extremely helpful and a much richer interaction than simply talking on the phone. It feels more like a true visit.

      I laughed when I read the part about your kissing your wife, and glad you stopped using your computer for a much more worthy cause! Clearly you have your priorities in the right place.
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    Jan 18 2014: Hannah, Thanks for your insightful comment. I agree that written communication allows us to edit our thoughts and reflect on what we are saying in a way that we cannot do when we are physically with another person. Your point that we are allowed to formulate our thoughts more carefully in writing is true. However, you go on to say that face-to-face communication offers much more intimacy and connection with another person.

    So do you think we need to create a hierarchy of interaction? Would you say that face-to-face, in person communication is at the highest level because it offers the most contact with human beings? Or is the best scenario to have both options when communicating with another person? We can write to them, carefully formulating our thoughts and reflecting on our ideas, but for the relationship to progress, must we also have a a certain proportion of face to face contact?

    There has been much debate over written communicate taking the place of personal interaction. Can our emails and text messages allow us the same level of intimacy? Would a relationship only go so far if the majority of interactions occur through texting or emails? It strikes me that this kind of relating would be very limited indeed. It has its place, but cannot feel as connected as physically being with another person.

    What are your thoughts on this? Again, thank you for joining the conversation!
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      Jan 18 2014: I think to a certain extent, we should have both forms of communication, but texting should be for short conversations, maybe planning to meet up somewhere to go over something, or just to tell someone that you are thinking of them. Some people use texting to meet each other, and there are some people who would prety much lie about anything. I think that it is somewhat dangerous not to meet someone face to face the first few times. Human interaction is very healthy, and there can be a healthy amount of texting too. You can text, but don't let it replace human interaction. If I had to chose I would favor human interaction over texting,.
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    Jan 18 2014: I am a person who finds it easier to express her true emotions through writing, rather than speaking, but I have been this way my hole life. When you are actually talking to someone there is no delete button, but if you write something, and your think you could have worded it better, all that you have to do is erase it and you can fix it. There is a way to fix your mistake, while you are speaking to a person, but it is a great deal more difficult. You can avoid ever saying the thing that you need to fix if it is written, and that is why a lot of people prefer writing, however, I enjoy human interaction even more. There is one thing that a computer can not give you and that is compassion. A computer can not hug you, wipe your tears, and tell you that everything is ok, so if you are afraid of talking, because you think you will make a mistake, always remember that problems can be solved, and the risk is worth taking, because there is nothing more comforting than human interaction.