How Technology Impacts Actual Communication

Introduction:

This is a project for my university subject called ‘Media, Audience, Place’ which aims to explore current applications of the theories composed by David Seamon and Sherry Turkle, in relation to my family network, or ‘the networked home’ a term learnt about in this subject. Seamon’s writing A Geography of Lifeworld in Retrospect: A Response to Shaun Moores (2006) reflects on his own writing, A Geography of the Lifeworld (1979), and outlines numerous key points which relate to the day to day interactions of my family, with emphasis on technology usage. Importantly, he mentions ‘Everyday Environmental Experience’, which is the ‘sum total of peoples’ (2006) firsthand involvements with their everyday places, spaces, and environments, and through his research in the field, developed three major themes:

  • Movement – The habitual nature of everyday environmental behaviours
  • Rest – Explored people’s attachment to place and gave particular attention to at-homeness and positive affective relationships with places and environments
  • Encounter – Multifaceted ways in which people make or do not make attentive contact with their surroundings and explored such modes of awareness as obliviousness, noticing, watching, and more intense encounter types

This project will primarily focus on the third point (Encounter) and will show how each member of my family has different routines, or ‘stories’ at home, on the journey to work, and at work, which will show how the terms and theory composed by Seamon is relevant some 40 years after the original work was composed.

Seamon also states that the most valuable part of A Geography of Lifeworld is the section based on encounter, which he goes on to explain his findings from group observations. He found that the range of awareness extends from “obliviousness to minimal attentive contact with the world at hand through watching, noticing, and more intense kinds of encounter where the experiencer feels a sense of “merging” with some aspect of world” (2006). Furthermore, Seamon talks about the different levels of awareness compared to what distractions are present, including radio, television, and the internet, and how each takes one’s attention away from the real world to different degrees. This is increasingly relevant today, as shown in this assignment, as more and more distractions are entering day to day life.

The recurring theme of being stuck in your own personal bubble was also mentioned by Seamon. He states:

“Many thinkers and commentators have written recently about how, in some ways, digital technologies appear to be reducing the range and quality of human experience, including encounter. In a Sunday New York Times article (February 20, 2005), for example, columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan noted that New York City’s lively streets have lost some of their animation, partly because of the “iPod people,” who “walk down the street in their own MP3 cocoon, bumping into others, deaf to small social cues, shutting out anyone not in their bubble.” The result, Sullivan says, is that we Americans are “narrowcasting our own lives…. Technology has given us finally a universe entirely for ourselves—where the serendipity of meeting a new stranger, or hearing a piece of music we would never choose for ourselves…are all effectively banished…. Society without the social. Others who are chosen—not met at random.” (2006)

Sherry Turkle, a Professor of Social Science presented a TED talk titled ‘Connected, but alone?’, which explored a concept similar to that of David Seamon. She also mentions how humans seem to reach for a device to feel a connection, and technology gives us the illusion of companionship. The need to be connected to a device is shaping ‘a new way of being’.

Background:

I sat down with my family and discussed these theories, and asked them a series of questions about routines throughout a typical weekday. They told me numerous stories which are composed into a daily timeline, as shown below. Each entry relates to one of the theories discussed above, whether it be the different levels of awareness, isolation from human, and a false connection to humans. For the record, my brother is seventeen years old and my parents are near their fifties.

Timeline:

8:27 AM

Mum sits on train on her way to the city and observes everyone buried in their devices. She is able to sit on the train without needing to look at her phone. She also sees the link between Seamon’s idea that people are locked inside their own personal ‘cocoon’. “If someone walked up along the carriage completely nude, maybe 25% of the passengers would notice”, she says.

9:00 AM

Dad is at work, looking at results of the morning’s European football fixtures on his phone, while his machine finishes its job. Instead of talking to other workers, they are also consumed with their phone. “It’s a lot easier to just look at your phone than attempt to have half a conversation with someone who isn’t paying you full attention”, he says.

1:00 PM

Mum begins her lunch break at work. She sees everyone go out for lunch, or sit at their desk on the computer. Her routine is to see what’s trending on ninemsn. No one else is around for conversation.

3:33 PM

My brother gets home from school and follows his weekday ‘routine’, which involves putting his bag down, checking the kitchen for homemade afternoon tea, puts his bag, shoes and hat away, makes a coffee and food, and takes a seat in the study to browse his phone. The study is his own exclusion zone which he likes as it is comfy and takes him away from any distractions. It is his way to unwind.

5:10 PM

Jack is playing his favourite game on his PlayStation 4, talking to his friends through his headset. I attempt to talk to him, but he isn’t aware of my presence. He can’t hear me unless he sees me and takes his headset off.

7:50 PM

We sit down as a family to watch television after dinner. Dad begins to look at his phone and begin texting his friend from work. Mum attempts to talk to him, but he isn’t paying attention. He notices that she is talking to him, but isn’t aware enough to completely communicate with her.

9:00 PM

I’m finishing off some university work on my laptop, listening to some music as Mum says goodnight. I can’t hear her, and she gets annoyed. I’m consumed with what I am doing. I’m oblivious to what she is saying

Summary

As shown, my family is a perfect example of how human interaction is affected by technology. I think that there are many ways that communication can be improved in the future to ensure meaningful interaction doesn’t diminish. There are definitely lessons to be learnt when improving family communication, although, there isn’t much as much that can be done in regards to work colleagues.

References:

Seamon, D 2006, ‘A Geography of Lifeworld in Retrospect: A Response to Shaun Moores’, Participations, vol.3, no. 2, <http://www.participations.org/volume%203/issue%202%20-%20special/3_02_seamon.htm&gt;

‘Connected, But Alone?, 2012, TED Talk, Sherry Turkle, viewed 27 October 2015  <http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together/transcript&gt;

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