After several long and heavy-duty posts in a row (which I’m behind in responding to comments on) I thought I’d take a break and post something short. Here’s an excerpt from an old (1998) Wired interview with Cybrarian Reva Basch:

WIRED: Will living and interacting online warp our cognition and perhaps change the way we interact offline?

MS. BASCH: I notice it in particular when I read for pleasure.  I just can’t keep my eyes still.  I have to remind myself to slow down and say “hey, you’re reading for style, not content, stop browsing, start reading”.  It has an accelerating effect on life.  At parties, I’ll scan the people: “not interesting, not interesting…”.  Which is AWFUL– sort of looking over their shoulders for the next person who will add value.   It’s a terrible, terrible thing to do.  And I’ll tell you what else I’ve discovered– I am less and less satisfied with superficial social connections.  Online, you really get into serious discussions, perhaps because the software focuses you on one particular issue.  I find that affects my relationships with offline friends, especially people I haven’t seen for a while.  There’s a lack of depth and context and continuity in a lot of my face-to-face relationships.  I think the whole quality of human interaction and language is changing.

I confess I’ve caught myself scanning during social occasions. What do you think? Is the nature of reading and communication in the Internet age changing the quality of human interaction and language?

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  1. Rob Paterson says:

    Morning DaveI feel that I have picked up the habit of scanning from hours on the web every day. When I read now I have to underline and comment in the margin or I just shoot through the text.I have found that I can scan everyone when I am writing or blogging a lot. I have not looked at the blog world for three days until last night and did find that I had a lot more energy for my work and for my family – I can go off to some strange place out there inhabited by authors who thank their spouses and family in book forwards.It is weird that the world out there can be more real than the world in here.

  2. ed nixon says:

    For a wonderfully oblique, metaphorical take on this question, read the novels of Patrick O’Brian, the Aubrey-Maturin series. You must start at the beginning. But, in particular, the series that begins with “The Thirteen Gun Salute” and continues a single story line through 3 more novels to “The Wine-Dark Sea”. The scenes of the return to England in the final novel are very affecting. They also give a sense that there have always been disconnects in our lives. The commute to and from work is an example that is more or less invisible now. The fact that we now do another, virtual “disconnect” with a computer in a room in our own house or office may simply be an artifact of the time and the relatively small size of the globe on which we live. However, being new and virtual, it may be more subversive and less well internalized or integrated into our matrix of social behaviours. Then of course there is Homer, but I digress.

  3. Chris Dent says:

    This is the part that is most key for me:”And I’ll tell you what else I’ve discovered– I am less and less satisfied with superficial social connections. Online, you really get into serious discussions, perhaps because the software focuses you on one particular issue. I find that affects my relationships with offline friends, especially people I haven’t seen for a while. There’s a lack of depth and context and continuity in a lot of my face-to-face relationships.”I’ve noticed this more and more over the last ten years. However, I’m not sure it is just the software. To some extent the software was designed and created by people who may already have been predisposed to communicate through a software intermediary. Thus, the tools they create facilitate and encourage that behavior.I know that for myself I’ve always felt dissatisfied with synchronous communication, whether that be in person, on the phone or using internet chat services. It feels like it lacks depth and considered thought.What’s worse, perhaps, is that I now notice that I’m less likely to participate in email based conversations with people who are not literate in the styles of quoting, writing and referencing that I prefer. “You didn’t trim your quotations in your reply, you must be boring and dumb!”I suspect purple numbers might make this even worse.

  4. Rob Paterson says:

    Oh Chris – how right you are. Asynchronicity forces a reflection that improves the dialogue.I hate social gossip meaning what happened to so and so. My idea of hell is an eternal cocktail party – but I love ideas. Most face to face is the former. Much of blogging is the latter. By the way another way of “disappearing” to friends and family is to find a book series such as the Aubrey/Maturin one and then reading it in 2 weeks. Or maybe worse, doing what I am right now and watching the entire first series of Six feet Under in two nights (13 hours!)

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Ed: You never digress ;-) I had the rare experience today of walking for half an hour in downtown Toronto. It made me realize just how disconnected you can be commuting by car. I’ve met a half dozen scions of multi-millionaires in my life, and found that because they were chauffeured everywhere, went to private schools, private clubs, etc. they have in their adult lives an incredibly distorted view of reality. They are socially dysfunctional. I don’t think wrapping yourself up in the virtual world of the Internet*, with its muffled, buffered interaction, is nearly as bad. But it’s still surreal, incomplete, and possibly even dangerous. Not anti-social, but in a real sense asocial. *(or in novels, for that matter)

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Kara: Thanks for your kind words. I wonder if sometimes we use e-mail & blogging as excuses to avoid ‘real’ social interaction. I’ve noticed a large majority of bloggers who list their Meyers-Briggs type are ‘INTP’s. I think that personality type is especially prone to ‘Internet addiction’.

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Chris/Rob: I think you’re right, that many bloggers tend to prefer surrogates for ‘real’ interaction (immersing themselves in novels, for example), and find real-time conversations too often superficial, ill-considered, and unsatisfactory. Personally I find face-to-face, one-on-one conversations immensely satisfying. Yes, they can be undisciplined, but I find that ultimately, via the ‘successive approximation’ method of communication, they are much more effective raids on the inarticulate than asynchronous communications.

  8. cat says:

    I was never any good at the synchronous world anyway. For a person with such a disabliity this can only be good.

  9. Marie Foster says:

    The internet can be a savior for lots of people with disabilities. I know of many who are socially isolated due to serious illness. One can not think that is a bad thing. The internet does remove many of the barriers that we have in real life. Often people we see and visually connect with are not socially or intellectually compatible. Just finding friendships today can be a serious challenge since our social institutions are so non existent. When I retired early I realized that I would end up in a world with less opportunity for social interaction. I have found this to be the case. When I get up in the morning the only thing I can think of to do is go to the library. While that is not a bad thing, it certainly does not end up leading to scintillating conversation with others.People in our world and our culture do not even know their neighbors. People do not go to church any more. Social Clubs do not attract people. All our entertainment is mostly geared to isolation. The lack of opportunities to participate in meaningful social interactions is part and parcel of our isolation.If it is a glass half full

  10. Rob Paterson says:

    I teach most of my courses online. But I have one blended course where we have a class and the rest online. I have been amazed by the reaction online of the introverts in class. They positively shine. As the boy who always had his hand up and cold not keep his mouth shut as a student, it has bene very special seeing the room that this has created to enable al of the class to participate.So the online world is not all bad

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    I agree, of course it is a mixed blessing. My concern however is that if it becomes a crutch (and I see this a lot in business) to avoid face-to-face communication, not only does it sub-optimize efficiency, it also prevents the individual from accomplishing as much in life as they might otherwise, with more balance between their real and virtual lives.

  12. aol says:

    I couldn’t help but notice the date of the original post – 1998. Think of the way the Net has changed since then, the least of which is the blog and the associative tools. Where else in a span of an hour can you have a “conversation” with a lawyer (in all specialties, pediatric nurse, doctor, professor, pilot, military officer/enlisted, Iraq/Iran/French/Aussie/British, etc. bloggers all on the same topic? I just find some of the more “one subject” sites extremely educational. There are so many people that I have “met” on line that I would have had no possibility in real life to come across. Their voices have been amazing. I am very thankful for virtual life.

  13. Paul Towlson says:

    Thank you for another thought provoking post. I wonder whether it is not so much the internet but the nature of city life, of which telecommunications is a part, that makes us impatient of shallow conversations and contacts. I have some more comment concerning this on my own weblog post Social Clicking

  14. Martin Wisse says:

    Naaaah.People like her are just predisposed to do so. I don’t scan books nor people, though I’ve been online for a while now (nine years).(Cybrarian? Ugh.)

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