By Kathi Bliss
One of my favorite television shows lately is “The Big Bang Theory,” a comedy about five friends living in Southern California. One of the things that strikes me about the show, and the reason that I – along with millions of other viewers – have taken to it is because of the writers’ and actors approach to human interaction.
The premise of the series revolves around four twenty-something men, all brilliant research scientists and professors, who can only be classified as “geeks.” Their lives revolve around computer games, comic books, science fiction and their work – physics, astrophysics and engineering.
Their neighbor is a smart-mouthed and street-wise aspiring actress (also known as a “waitress”) who is essentially the only woman the guys know. One character, Sheldon, is truthful, yet unfailingly rude in telling the truth, to his friends. Another, Raj, is so terrified of women that he cannot speak to them – and yet developed a crush on his smart phone’s computerized “assistant.”
Their interactions are, almost without exception, hilarious.
Unfortunately, according to a recent study by medical doctor and researcher Sidney Gale, those sorts of interactions are also all too real.
Gale’s research suggests that young people in today’s society spend so much time with video games and Internet interactions that their social skills have, for all intents and purposes, atrophied. Many of our young people, Gale asserts, don’t have the foggiest clue how to interact with one another; those that do interact with others often find themselves at odds with others because of the way they interact.
Social skills are something that I think about quite a bit, as someone who herself spends an inordinate amount of time on the computer – much of that time on “social networking sites,” where people cuss, discuss and attempt to hammer out the issues of the day.
The thing that I’ve noticed, though, is that when we interact online, we tend to throw decorum and manners out the window. We say things to one another online that we’d almost never consider saying face-to-face. We spread rumors and conjecture with only the slightest hint of factual basis behind them; we spread those rumors, literally, at the speed of light.
And to what end, I wonder? Have we finally reached a point of diminishing return where our online “relationships” are concerned?
There are a number of people, folks I consider friends in the real world, with whom I would never, ever speak if my only exposure to them was through their online ramblings. I’d wager there are more than a few people that feel the same way about me. I’ve lost a few friends, and cut a few more out of my life, because of the way they behave online.
Unfortunately, what I’m noticing, more and more, is that we as a society are reaching a place where we are carrying our online personas out of the living room, away from the computer, and out into the world.
The repercussions of that fact frighten me. Because a few moments of observation in any given “chat room” reveals quite clearly that it isn’t only the youth that are having trouble relating to one another. Adults seem to be struggling with the rules of social interaction, as well.
We no longer realize that there are limits on the things that we can say to one another, and a basic human code of conduct to which we should all adhere. We are so caught up in the notion of “freedom of speech” that we forget that just because we CAN say things to other people, it doesn’t mean we should.
And it seems to me that as a society, we are becoming more rude, more angry and generally just more unpleasant to one another; our collective attitude is getting worse by the day.
What does it all mean?
I don’t know, and I don’t pretend to know. But I know that if we, as individuals, lose our ability to listen, to interact and to get along with other people out in the world, we’re headed for disaster – I’m not sure what that disaster will look like, but I’m certain that it won’t be pretty.
So is there a good answer? Probably not. The one thing that I know to be true is that there is no “magic bullet” for the ills that plague society. History has proven that, time and time again.
The only thing I can do, and something I think we should all consider, is stepping away from the computer, and back into the world. It’s summer… the days are long and sunny, and there are plenty of things going on. Why not shut down the computer, step away from the tablet, put the smart phone in our pockets and get out there and enjoy it?
I’m going to give it a try… and I hope I see you out there.
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