Have you ever walked into a mall or a party, and have been greeted with a deafening silence of people tapping on their phones, texting, liking and commenting on their status updates, instead of having real conversations with real people around them? Well, you’re not alone. We have been immersed inside this data bubble by the devices we hold and we are constantly having to pay our dues every day at every moment by making sure we are liking others, checking status updates etc; because if we don’t, we lose our connection to others and whatever is happening around us.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think technology has done a wonderful job of changing the world into the global village it is today. It has bought all the information to us at the click of a button. And considering the plethora of free services that it provides, it has become the lifeblood for many born in the internet age. However, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that its job is not yet completed. Having seen the many wonders that it has created, we are also only now beginning to see the hidden cracks that it has exposed.
In this Washington Post article, a former Facebook executive, says that “Social media is destroying society with ‘dopamine-driven feedback loops’ ”. Thus our phones have become this device we have to constantly sit on to make sure we are connected with people who are not around us and this has created a dopamine-driven craze to connect with people online and ignore the people around us. Because of the interaction with brain-chemistry, technology is also taking a heavy toll on the mental health of teenagers and young adults. Studies show that loneliness is linked to the overuse of technology.
The signs of this epidemic are visible all around us. You can walk into a mall and see groups of friends leaning up against the wall constantly texting. You can even walk in through a college and everybody is spending their time with their heads down and sometimes even getting hit by cars because they are too immersed in the virtual world. The fact the people can walk into a beautiful park and not enjoy it. Instead they are looking down onto a screen.
It’s not just friends, but even family are now going on camping trips, trying to escape into the wilderness where there is no WiFi, just to get away from our technology-obsessed culture. Because without technology, the family can now get closer together and have more bonding time. Even romantic relationships are not immune to the relentless onslaught of technologies permeating our lives. The fact that people can now give up on their significant other just to find somebody else because it has made us so easily replaceable.
Even right at the epicenter of the technology nest Silicon Valley, the schools are shunning the use of technology altogether, instead going for a people to people approach to teach students. “Teaching is about human contact and interaction,” says the class teacher. “I don’t think we are doing children any favors by teaching them through machines at that young age.”
“We’re a vehicle for human interaction, otherwise it’s just a commodity.”
There are many others who have tried to rectify this problem. Take for example this coffee shop, which has completely removed its WiFi to make sure people can talk to one another. “It’s about creating a social vibe,” says the owner, “We’re a vehicle for human interaction, otherwise it’s just a commodity.”
This is because the problems that we have with technology is not with the WiFi or the internet or with our phone. Instead, it’s the way our phones have been hardwired to work with people;
But unfortunately, removing the WiFi or phones is more like a band-aid solution to a much deeper problem and will not necessarily resolve the issue. This is because the problems that we have with technology is not with the WiFi or the internet or with our phone. Instead, it’s the way our phones have been hardwired to work with people; they’re designed in such a way so that people need to connect to a person that is online. But have we ever stopped to wonder what would happen if our phones; the very thing that is the source of almost all of our distractions, suddenly start to work the other way around. That is instead of tearing us apart, they could actually help us connect with the very people around us. Let’s visualize a real-life scenario.
Imagine you’ve walked into a party and there are a group of friends talking to each other. And because they have known each other for quite some time and have formed their own cliches, there is a social barrier for you to overcome if you want to join the group. There could even be other reasons why people can have barriers to overcome. For example, they could be in an awkward situation, or maybe they are just too shy to get up and talk to somebody, as they may not know anybody at the party. In such instances, we could use technology to break that initial ice so that they can also be a part of the conversation and not be left alone and wondering about what to do. And so we are taking people that genuinely want to converse with other people and giving them the ability to talk to others in any situation. And even after they have started the initial conversation, we keep them connected by not letting the conversation sink into an awkward silence. This TEDx talk shows us an example of how we can use technology to help people to have better conversations with others, so that they can remain connected with others throughout the conversation.
And so we are taking people that genuinely want to converse with other people and giving them the ability to talk to others in any situation.
This was the idea behind GREGIA, a tech platform to help people build friendships. The word GREGIA comes from the word gregarious which means ‘friendly’ or‘a way to build friendships’. Thus they want to provide people with the right bridge so that they will be able to make that initial connection and build it without the awkwardness that it brings in real life. In some sense, it’s the opposite of what others are doing with technology. That is using technology, the same thing that’s tearing people apart and then instead using it to bringing people closer together by giving them the ability to connect with others in real life.
It’s the opposite of what others are doing with technology.
But let’s be realistic here. While we can’t expect technology to be the magic pill that can alleviate all the problems of humanity, it can certainly make some issues such as personal connections and reaching out to people around us, a lot easier to handle. And even if we achieve this much for now, that is still a significant social impact considering the massive scale on which it operates.