As I approach this week’s reading response, I feel my mind drifting in what feels like every direction – we digested a whole lot of information, from a wide variety of perspectives, all relevant and in many ways intertwined. To narrow down the scope of my response, I have chosen to specifically focus on the second portion of required texts, highlighting the concepts deeply rooted within the Ellison and Turkle readings. Ellison and her team selected to analyze this topic by completing a study of a specific sect of college students, while Turkle approached the topic in a much more in depth and philosophical way.
A common concept defined within each text is social capital. This is the base, the foundation for each text, in a sense – as both are looking at how the current standard of relationships has been impacted by interaction with technology. Ellison focuses on the social media site of Facebook, although by including factors such as, self-esteem and life satisfaction, as they compare to use of the platform, the team looks deeper into the psyche of the users. This is acknowledgment that the demographics and personal state of individuals is a key component when evaluating their use of online social platforms. It helps those studying the topic to better understand the motivation for use of specific technologies to connect with others. The concepts of bridging versus bonding relationships, surfaces within the text of the Ellison study, they are meant to categorize the connections made online – on Facebook, for this study. After reading through the study I decided to review my personal interactions and “friendships” on Facebook. I found that roughly 80% of my connections could be considered “bridged”, meaning that I have no offline relationship with these individuals (only 6% of them, had I ever considered “close” friends). This left 20% of the connections to be those with people I interact with on a regular, or at least semi-regular, basis and know that I could turn to them for emotional support. I was not surprised by my findings, and it fell in line with research completed at a national level.
Ellison’s study also discussed that users who were considered to use Facebook at a heightened intensity level, who also indicated lower self-esteem and life satisfaction, found that the interaction and connections made online increased their self-esteem and satisfaction levels. It is mentioned within the text, that it can be speculated, users who would typically not interact or be social offline, may be more likely to reach out to other users in the online setting. I have to say, that this is definitely something I have found to be very true. In an article related to brain activity and neurological reactions to online interactions – including Facebook “likes”, comments, and even just being notified of activity – it is understandable that many young people (and otherwise) turn to online connections to find intimacy and emotional support. In a study completed in Australia, it was found that when individuals interact online, or receive responses from other users, the brain releases dopamine and a momentary spike in happiness is felt. This means, “the same brain areas [that are activated for food and water] are activated for social stimuli”, this is similar to receiving “…a smile, someone telling you you’re doing a great job, or you’re trustworthy.”
Turkle’s introduction, titled “Alone Together”, takes the concepts introduced within the Ellison study a step further. Ellison’s study, for me, was an example of one specific platform and its interactions with a particular type of individual. Turkle opens the discussion to reach more broadly, to see how online and artificial intelligence technologies, as a sect, are creating more connections than ever, while simultaneously disconnecting humans. In one portion, when she shares the story of her daughter at the museum, she looks at how the younger generations (and many others) are viewing artificial life as superior to reality. The fact that we have more control over robot animals, than wild ones, heightens the appeal to use one in place of the other. We are seeking to heighten efficiency in our world, and this is spilling over to our personal lives – which is leaving us disconnected from those we consider our closest loved ones. Texts and emails have replaces visits and phone calls, make our world feel impersonal. Since we are always connected, we are unable to take moments to focus on ourselves. We can be in a room full of people and not realize it, looking past real people to view those online. How will these changes affect us long term?
In the second part of her discussions, Turkle writes about how it appears that with the advancement of robots and artificial intelligence, people are becoming more reliant on these technologies to provide the interaction and support that was once given by another human. Her analysis of how authentic these relationships actually are, and how do they ultimately impact our psyche (emotional stability and ability) were very interesting. She brought to light the questions that we should all be asking, is the decrease in human contact – physically, verbally, emotionally – really a good thing? Perhaps it’s good for some, but not for all? Essentially, one of my takeaways from the reading is that people are seeking ways to remove themselves from the human experience. We have decided that living and feeling all of the “good” emotions – happiness, love, joy – are not worthy having to live through the other, “bad” emotions – anger, sadness, depression. Many would elect to avoid these emotions and connections, by retaining only relationships with robots (AI’s) and online connections.