People from all generations often comment on how technology is degrading our capacity to communicate. I can see this argument. However, I think that’s very surface level. Beyond the tip of the iceberg, I can see how technology has enriched our communications while also fundamentally changing how we interact.
My favourite part of conversations with other young people is when we whip out our phones mid-conversation to fact check. I get that it might appear rude to break eye contact, and seemingly the flow of the conversation, but balanced against the social faux pas of misinformation, I’m pro-fact checking. Generation Z has grown up knowing that the world is at their fingertips along with all of the knowledge it holds — so why would we not take 10 seconds to make sure we’re being factual and accurate? As kids, most of us heard things like, “if you swallow watermelon seeds one will grow in your stomach,” and “if you shave your legs the hair will grow back thicker.” These old wives’ tales vary in terms of believability, but are prevalent nonetheless. Now, we have the ability to double check in seconds whether the person who voices Raven in Teen Titans is the same woman who does Bubbles in The Powerpuff Girls — so we do.
I grew up in a small, very white, very Christian town. It wasn’t until I was set loose upon the internet that I started to see perspectives that differed from those I was raised around. I am a queer woman with a disability and spent much of my life blaming myself for not fitting a very unattainable ideal of how a person should act, think and feel. I didn’t know why it was so hard for me to try and be normal. Then, I discovered feminist Instagram pages that linked me to essays, theory, research and discourse. This helped me come to understand who I was and the world around me. I can now approach people in life as someone who is proud of who I am and it has made my friendships so much more meaningful. It’s hard to connect with someone authentically when you aren’t bringing your authentic self to the table and I never would have found mine if not for the blessed folks behind feminist and activist pages online.
Besides, technology is more than just electronic devices. One of the first technological advances humanity made was to control fire. It fundamentally changed how early humans lived. It’s hard to imagine them rejecting fire on philosophical terms. It’s also hard for me to imagine people rejecting the printing press, but they did.
Luddism has come to serve as an umbrella term for opposition to advancing technology, but initially began in the 19th century with mostly working class men raiding and destroying textile machinery. This rebellion seemed to have been rooted in the fear of technological advancement harming their livelihood by replacing their labour. We’ve seen that time and time again with big shifts in technology. We feel the pressure on an ongoing basis as technology shifts and grows more rapidly than the early Luddites could ever have imagined. I think in some ways that is the core of a lot of the technological backlash beyond employment concerns — the fear of things changing and becoming worse for us. I’ve felt it, too. When my roommate talks about YouTubers or someone says literally anything about Tik Tok I feel like I’m being left behind in what’s relevant — like I am not adapting fast enough to match pace with our digital culture. I don’t think many of us truly believe communication is worse now, but we do know it’s different and that can be scary.
In the last decade, social media has been used to fuel revolutions — both political and cultural. It has contributed to the Arab Spring and #MeToo. It has also brought about things like the Cambridge Analytica scandal. We’ve seen the dangers and the possibilities that arise when we’re this connected.
Ultimately, the power that comes with technology is just that — power. It is in and of itself neutral. What matters is how it is applied — to what end?