In 2004, the beginning of my senior year at San Lorenzo High School, a new fascination emerged and spread quickly amongst the student body. I never considered myself one to follow the latest and greatest of anything, but this one stimulated my curiosity, “Tom is one of my top 5 friends”, I’d hear as I walked through the halls. Who the hell is Tom, how does everyone know him and why? “Myspace…Duh!” was the most common response I’d received. Eventually, like the other lemmings, I became a registered user on Myspace. I learned it was this social networking thingy that enabled users to become friends with people they knew personally and with complete strangers. It quickly and unnaturally bridged the gap between strangers, allowing them to bypass the awkward and sometimes unnecessary introductions used to establish a friendship.
Myspace allowed people to become friends simply with the click of the mouse, and it set the stage for social networking hierarchies. The individual’s people chose to represent their top 5 friends carried a lot of weight and elevated social statuses among groups. Tom was number one on everyone’s page until one day, one fateful day, users were allowed to remove Tom, and three additional friend spaces were added. That’s when the world, or at least the world of San Lorenzo High, went crazy. Top 8 friends! With Tom removed, who will become the number one friend? I bailed after witnessing the bizarre life decisions being made left and right in regards to Myspace. Angry couples yelling at each other, asking why they’re not number one on their significant others top friends. Lifelong friends turned to enemies because of a comment on the page of an individual the other doesn’t get along with. Beyond the world of San Lorenzo High, internet bullying and stalking were born, and to some extent, all Myspace users were guilty of it, but very few took it to the extreme resulting in multiple assaults and even death. Things were getting out of control, it was wildfire. The flames had risen so high, and so fast, the only way for the madness to stop was for people to come back to the real world and disconnect. But they couldn’t nor did they want to. The social networking community of Myspace was real and evolved beyond everyone’s imagination. It got to a point where not having a Myspace page meant something was wrong with you, though, there may have been something wrong with them.
Technology has advanced much further and faster than many have anticipated. This may be due to the number of people who have the means and access to participate in its advancement even if it’s not for scientific or technological research. Human to technology interaction is the new norm, we are all connected and dependent upon technology. The concern about this dependency ignited the science fiction notion of the singularity:
“The singularity is the moment…when machine intelligence crosses a tipping point. Past this point…artificial intelligence will go beyond anything we can currently conceive…At the singularity, everything will become technically possible, including robots that love…We may merge with through robotic and achieve immortality. The singularity is technological rapture.” (Turkle 25)
Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, has done mountains of research to observe and understand human interaction with various forms of advanced technology. Her results revealed many controversial and ethical implications we may face as the advancement progresses. The emotional attachment and dependency her subjects had on electronic devices, interactive toys, or even social media could be viewed as both ridiculous and scary. We are using technology, or more specifically robots, to fill a void and mimic our naturally desired human interactions. This forced me to question my own dependency, and I learned I was in denial. Many of us are, but why? Are we trying to avoid the criticism, or is it possible many of us cannot see the consequences of our technological interaction? The future of human to human emotional interaction and communication is in jeopardy because the lines between human life and artificial life have blurred and some us have become so dependent upon technology we can’t tell the difference.
Social Media and social networking have formed an infinite amount of communities. As already mentioned, there’s Myspace, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat; honestly, I could probably go on for days. The purpose of each community is to stay connected with one other. But who or what are people connecting to? “There is the possibility that chatting with anonymous humans can make online bots and agents look like good company…there is a possibility that the company of online bots makes anonymous humans look good” (Turkle 231). Trying to stay connected can be dangerous mentally, physically, and emotionally based on who or what, as Turkle pointed out, people are talking to. These connections were made for a specific purpose, and they inevitably changed how people interact. The social life of people and their social networking life became separate worlds. Interactions that are played out or discussed online are not addressed outside of that realm. When this does happen, it is known as the “spill-over effect” (Turkle, 195). This is where one has to own up to his or her actions that took place online face to face with an actual human being. Confrontations can erupt, emotions run wild, and people could potentially get hurt.
As a child, I remember having Barbie dolls and baby dolls, as well as action figures to play with. If and when I was bored with those I played outside. Today’s youth now have technology to play and interact with. When I had Myspace, anyone under the age of 15 was considered too young to have one, and anyone over the age of 25 was considered too old. Now, it’s free for all. It pains me to see and hear ten year old glued to their phones, talking about their “Facebook drama.” Turkle makes an excellent point, “Young people grow up with an expectation of continuous connection, always on and always on them” (Turkle 17). This constant need to stay connected has warped human interaction through all age ranges. Children today will grow up with the notion that technology has always been around because it was the first interactions they made other than their parents. I am guilty of giving my little cousin my tablet to occupy his time so that I may constructively occupy mine. But to watch how he interacts, his sense of curiosity and how he’s able to navigate (better than me) through the tablet so effortlessly, scares me. He is only 3 years old. I can only imagine what his navigation skills will be like when he is 10. That’s only 7 years away, and the rate of technological advancements increases every day.
We don’t know how to explain or define human existence. We consistently find ways to search for answers beyond who we are, to give our lives meaning. As children, the most curious minds among mankind, we try to find meaning on our own, and as we become adults, we continue to search. All we know for sure is that we are here, but what does that mean and why are we here? Technology is being used to answer these questions to fill in the blanks of human life. With technology, we’ve found many answers that stretch beyond our wildest dreams, and in return, we’ve only created more questions. Because of this, it is feared that technology may decide it wants to mimic our existence; to be real, but real is essentially undefined. Technology exists because we have allowed it to thus far, but is it advancing at a rate beyond our control? And will there be a day when the blurred lines between man and machine become visibly apparent, forcing us to look to each other for survival without relying on the machines we’ve built?
The countdown to the singularity has begun.