The Social Life of the Internet

Technology is very interesting. On one hand it has made our lives infinitely more easy. I no longer have to wash all my clothes by hand for example. On another hand it has made life more difficult. I have to check not only my mail, but my e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Google reader, and voice mail as well. Technology has grown at an unprecedented rate and like it or not, being technology literate is becoming a necessity for functioning in our society.

However, despite how much technology has changed our lives, we are still humans and are driven by the same needs and desires as are ancestors. As a sociologist (can I say that yet?), it\’s very clear to me that humans need to be social and be involved with and interact with groups of people. We are truly interdependent and would not be able to live our lives the same way without other people. So when I look at technology, I often think about it in terms of how it affects our social relationships and what it tells us about ourselves. I think that\’s why I am so passionate about sociology. It\’s so human. So inexcusably human. The social structures and institutions we create tell us about ourselves. Everything we do expresses who we are as people. Sometimes it\’s good and sometimes it\’s bad, but it\’s unadulterated expression for sure and I respect that honesty. So when I look towards the cyber universe I do so trying to understand what it tells us about ourselves. Why has Facebook and Twitter flourished so well? Why has Google gotten so popular as to become an actual verb? What needs and desires do we have that drive the creation of these technologies and how has it impacted the way in which we interact with each other and the world?
I think generally, the internet from the beginning was born out of 2 main desires (well 3 if you count making money….that\’s always a desire I suppose): sharing information and connecting with others. These two desires are not mutually exclusive. Sharing information does connect people and people connect with each other by sharing information. Think about it, the first really awesome thing that I can remember being said about the internet is that I can talk to someone from China in real time without even leaving my house. That was my first thought about the internet. People using it to chat to people all over the world….like in those old IRC chatrooms or something. Then the internet became, for me at least, a huge pool of knowledge from which to draw. I never really chatted to people, and certainly not people from China that I didn\’t know…that would never have gone down with the parental units, so the ability to do research has been a huge thing for me (and believe me….research is a HUGE thing for me). I love being able to actually answer questions. learning new things and being able to put an end to that debate about whether or not the end of that Queen song was \”Give me, give me, give me one vision.\” OR \”Give me, give me, give me fried chicken.\” (Obviously it\’s the latter. One vision would have just been to mainstream and predictable. Fried chicken is just so much more couth)
However, what really intrigues me is the way that the internet has been used to connect not to random people across the globe, but to the real live people around us. I am more in contact with my mother than I ever could have been 30 years ago and I don\’t need a high school class reunion to know that so and so married a pilot from the military because it\’s all over her Facebook page. There\’s just a greater and greater desire and need to connect to other people through Facebook, twitter, e-mail, chatting, even though cell phones. And often we want to share in very real ways. We would rather send you a picture with a caption than just describe the event at hand. You just HAVE to see the Youtube video of the ducks being swept by the wind…so we can share and bond a little bit. Much to our mother\’s happiness, we LOVE sharing our experiences, our memories, our joys, our sorrows, ourselves AND the internet has given us a really accessible outlet to doing just that.
I just spent the last several minutes learning more about Google+ which is a new extension of Google that streamlines the way people interact so we can interact more humanely (more face to face time and easier sharing ability). This product launch only reaffirms that we value our connections with other people and that in many ways the internet has and can be used to really support and enhance those relationships.
Not to mention that companies are noticing. The computer knows what I\’ve been searching for (super creepy, I know). So it knows to put ads on the sides of my page that are relevant to what I was looking at previously. Now, some people have a really problem with this. Big brother much? I don\’t really, mainly because I would rather see something that is relevant to what I was doing than something totally off. If there\’s going to be ads, it might as well be an ad that I might consider clicking on, because I really do want a 25% discount on that Las Vegas Vacation I\’ve been planning. It might be a little evil, but it\’s definitely smart. Also, websites like Yelp which offer reviews on everything in the world is also a very social place on the web. I am more apt to try something if a friend I know from my real life likes it too and with the advances in Facebook connecting to every website under the sun, it becomes possible to utilize that information to make a more informed decision based on people you trust.
Basically, web relationships are infused with real relationships and I use the internet as a way to keep up with those relationships and allow them to grow and develop when they might not otherwise. We are all just really looking towards others to be our community, whether physically near or far. I honestly don\’t think the internet is \”ruining\” relationships like so many people do. Our relationships and how we express them are changing, yes, but are not being ruined. The same need and desire is there and it\’s evident when we look at the websites that have flourished and those that have not. The things we create reflect who we are and what we value and to me it is obvious that those same needs to human interaction are still as prevalent now as they ever have been in the past.
\”In this electronic age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness.\” – Marshall McLuhan

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