29 de novembro de 2016

Is Digital Connectedness Good or Bad for People?

UPDATED NOVEMBER 28, 2016 ,The New York Times

André da Loba
People of all ages are spending more and more time online. Does this digital trend improve lives or hurt them?


A Way to Explore and Build Relationships We Wouldn’t Otherwise Form

As social creatures, we seek out opportunities to connect with others. The internet is particularly effective in helping us do that.
As a child growing up in the United States with foreign parents, every summer we would visit my mother's family in Israel. There I would marvel at the artists on MTV Europe. And every four years, my Chilean father would hole up in our New Jersey basement to watch the Mundial on Univision — a cultural phenomena in other parts of the world, but unknown to our American neighbors.
Today’s globalized success stories are wonderful because they are undeniably influenced by their local context.
Nowadays, music, sport and culture spread easily across the globe. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is the darling of the art world. Shakira's fans go beyond Latin America. And even Black Friday sales are now a global phenomenon. It’s clear that the internet is having an impact on much more than our preference for music. For 18- to 24-year-olds, the heaviest social media users, it is the top source of news. For millennials, it is the biggest influence on voting behavior and the reason that they are more likely to give to global, as opposed to local, causes. The success of economy superpowers such as AirBnB, which has inspired millions to travel differently, points to a generation that is more open to connecting with strangers based on mutual interests and a willingness to trust people based on their online profiles.
But the internet, like all platforms, can be used for positive and negative interactions. We cringe with horror at hateful speech and people who leverage 140 character sound bites to further their anti-openness agenda. In the wake of the U.S. presidential election, many observers claim that social media has created “filter bubbles” that reinforce our views as opposed to opening us up to new ones.
As our world becomes more closely intertwined, we want to hold on to the elements of our identity that define where we come from. It can be sharing our home or showing pride in our local government. That is what makes today’s globalized success stories so wonderful — they are undeniably influenced by their local context.

Online Sharing and Selfies Erode the Value of Our Private Lives

About a year ago, I attended a meeting in Geneva focused on gathering 450 "changemakers" to tackle some of the world's most pressing challenges. I thought the participants would emerge with new relationships and perspectives on complex issues such as poverty and climate change. But very little meaningful conversation took place. Instead, participants spent the summit glued to their phones, taking selfies and sharing on Facebook — their posts usually accompanied by inspirational quotes and messages on how grateful they were to be included in this group of leaders.
The authenticity of these online activities is often more an attempt to curate a particular image than an expression of a person's actual beliefs and convictions.
This experience is representative of a values shift taking place in society toward concepts such as authenticity, transparency and vulnerability. Arthur C. Brooks, of the American Enterprise Institute, describes this shift through what Jean-Jacques Rousseau called "amour de soi" to an "amour-propre"; that is, individuals partake less in activities for the sake of activities' intrinsic worth than for their use in satisfying others. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to spend time on social media without coming across friends sharing random thoughts, requests for advice and updates on personal relationships. Although heartfelt, the authenticity of these activities is often suspect, often more an attempt to curate a particular image than an expression of a person's actual beliefs and convictions.
We celebrate this behavior, and see it modeled by many of society's leaders. As a Canadian, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comes to mind. Recently named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People and appearing on the cover of GQ as the "Prime Minister of Suave," Trudeau is active on Instagram and is considered by many to be the sort of open and authentic leader that we need in the world. Trudeau's visit to the White House, for instance, was accompanied by numerous "candid" Instagram photos and clever hashtags with the Obamas. Among these, a photo of the Trudeau and Obama families captioned "Meeting the neighbours," and a second with Trudeau in black tie, tagged #StateDinner. Though an important meeting between Canada and the United States, the Trudeau Instagram feed was at times more suggestive of a Vanity Fair shoot than a serious gathering between national leaders.
In our digital world, it comes as no surprise that these posts play such a central role in our lives, and that carefully curated social media images and comments gain such traction. But I cannot help but wonder what it is that we lose in the process of sharing so much of ourselves publicly. Social media "likes" and new followers provide us with public approval, but this need for constant sharing of ourselves — and the immediate gratification that comes with it — diminishes the meaning and significance in the things we share.
Lost in the online sharing and advice-gathering is the ability to reflect on questions ourselves, coming to our own decisions in whatever amount of time is required. In her book "How to Be Alone," philosopher Sarah Maitland wonders how it is that in a world that glorifies the individual, we have become so afraid of spending time alone. And she is right: Our digital lives favor public image at the expense of private reflection.
When it is possible to share widely, the approval we gain from followers leads us to forget that something even could be private, and moreover, that some parts of our lives are worth keeping private. Indeed, our digital connections might increase the ease in sharing certain parts of ourselves, but we must ask whether these are things better worth protecting.

Online Activism Is Having a Positive Effect in the Real World

“Clicktivism” and “slacktivism” are derogatory terms for online activism. It suggests that digital campaigns do nothing more than generate likes on Instagram. Many argue that these campaigns do more harm than good by providing participants with a sense of satisfaction that they’ve taken an action without actually contributing to the cause through tangible, “real-world” means. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Our online interactions influence our offline behavior. The myth of clicktivism dismisses the powerful movements that are taking place — on and offline.
One of the most notable examples of proported “slacktivism” was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The campaign attracted worldwide attention with leaders such as Lei Jun and Victor Koo taking part along with Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. Although the campaign was criticized with simply raising awareness (2.2 million Twitter mentions and 2.4 million Facebook videos of people pouring buckets of ice water over themselves), it raised more than $115 million. More recently, the Ice Bucket Challenge was credited with funding a research breakthrough.
There are other examples of online interactions fueling real-life actions. Lean In, founded by Sheryl Sandberg, uses high profile campaigns featuring Beyoncé and other celebrities tweeting their support for gender equality. These tweets sparked a conversation on and offline about the collective responsibility to close the gender gap and as a result, more than 900 companies have officially partnered with Lean In to support female leadership.
The United Nations Foundation is leveraging online interest to create a continued focus on the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to creating compelling messages that are easy to share on social media, the foundation uses its +SocialGood community, a platform for changemakers to share resources around global issues, to spread the word and make the goals locally relevant.
Our online interactions influence our offline behavior. The myth of clicktivism dismisses the powerful movements that are taking place — on and offline.

The Constant Sharing Is Making Us Competitive and Depressed

The relationships we form are superficial at best, and the social comparison that these connections fosters can be psychologically damaging.
The relationships we form are superficial at best, and the social comparison that these connections fosters can be psychologically damaging.
Over the past three years, I have conducted hundreds of one-on-one interviews with early and mid-career professionals on how they see their lives and careers developing in an uncertain world. Through these discussions, a theme of "ruthless comparison" emerges, where we become acutely aware of how our friends and colleagues portray themselves online. Noa highlights campaigns such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and Lean In, where the collective action of celebrities and average citizens creates a social pressure for others to engage in a particular socially conscious activity. While useful in generating real-life action, this pressure to engage is in large part based on social comparison: a need to portray oneself in a particular light to appear to be a person committed to doing good. These online actions are increasingly required to "keep up with the Joneses" in a connected world.
Although many interviewees were aware that these self-representations are illusory, they nevertheless felt pressured to engage in this competition, sharing their achievements and experiences over social media to show others how they are keeping up. This fuels a perpetual competition, focused on the sharing of successes and other updates, regardless of how accurately these portrayals represent real life — and they rarely do.
This sharing has psychological consequences. A handful of studies, including one recently conducted by the University of Michigan, suggest that increased Facebook usage contributes to anxiety and even depression. By constantly seeing what others are doing, and in paying attention to their lives as they seem to be unfolding in real-time, our anxiety and uncertainty as to whether we are leading lives that fulfill our own potential deepens.
This vicious cycle is difficult to escape; it requires a significant amount of confidence in oneself to both remain connected and see past the charade we collectively engage in. For every +SocialGood campaign that legitimately builds in-person dialogue, there are countless online campaigns fuelled by individual or corporate need to "curate" images that compare favorably with those of society's influencers. Based on my interviews with early and mid-career professionals, many individuals are at a crossroads in how to act in their online worlds. Skeptical of the authenticity of online activity, they nevertheless feel trapped in a society where sharing is celebrated.
Indeed, we must be weary of the comparisons that our connectedness encourages, knowing that these comparisons are often psychologically exhausting and, in some cases, harmful.

Online Connections Can be Superficial, but the Examples of That Are Outliers

When I first began to research social media in 2004, the reigning narrative was that people who chose to interact online were "socially awkward" and looking for opportunities to connect in the digital realm because real-world opportunities were closed off to them. When I studied teenagers who used chat rooms, I saw that a generation of digital natives were as socially adjusted as their peers and looked to connect online in addition to real life.
Many studies have shown that people who connect with others online are less likely to be socially isolated than their peers who don’t.
Although Emerson points to the negative consequences of a digital presence, many studies have shown that people who connect with others online are less likely to be socially isolated than their peers who don't. A particular subset of digital interaction, online dating, is now the second most common way to meet someone. And couples who have met online have marriages that are just as strong as those who met in real life.
As the No.1 activity on the web, social media has become a key part of our lives. These platforms mimic — not alter— our real world behavior. They just happen to broaden our perspective. I spend the same amount of time on Instagram liking photos of my niece as I do with social innovators living in Singapore. And Twitter allows me to share my opinion on the issues I care about — much as I would at the dining room table. The key difference is that I'm now able to tap into a global community, not just a local one.
The rise of citizen journalism has given us a first-person view into current events, making us more aware and providing us with a greater sense of responsibility as a result. Marginalized groups, such as gay teenagers, have been connecting with similar individuals and finding helpful resources. And movements like #BlackLivesMatter have turned anger toward injustice to positive, peaceful campaigns for change.

Of course, as Emerson mentions, there are many instances where the web is superficial — there is Tinder, #humblebragging and a tendency toward selfies. There are also elements of social media that cause more harm than good, from filter bubbles to fake news. But the deeper connections that take place online more than make up for these outlier examples. I, for one, am continuously amazed at social media's ability to connect us all.

The Potential for Change Through Online Connections Can Lead to Frustrations

In writing about online connections, Noa highlights its "key difference" as being the ability to "tap into a global community, not just a local one." Critically, this global community allows participants to share their opinions, and in some cases, develop relationships that would not otherwise exist. Personally, I have benefited from this interactivity; several of my closest friendships, as well as professional opportunities, began with communication over online tools such as skype — with in-person meetings not taking place until sometimes more than one year into our conversations. These experiences are compelling, as are the examples that Noa shares of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and others helping change the world.
There is a danger that belief in global connectivity, and its ability to "change the world," becomes its own religion bereft of critical examination.
But there is a danger that belief in global connectivity, and its ability to "change the world," becomes its own religion bereft of critical examination. Our connectedness means that we are bombarded with success stories — often in the form of lists such as Forbes Top 30 Under 30, or global networks such as the Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum — that showcase "changemakers" collaborating to solve the world's problems. These networks focus on the social impact of their members, with the Forbes Top 30 Under 30 Class of 2016 website, framing this as "Your Guide to the Entrepreneurs and Leaders Who Are Changing Our World." As previously argued, however, the change trumpeted in these networks does not always bear out in reality; the stories of these social entrepreneurs, and their ability to disseminate these stories through their online networks, often substitutes for the longer-term and often times unrecognized efforts required to make a lasting impact in the world.
The British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips writes in his book "Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life," that "The myth of our potential can make of our lives a perpetual falling-short, a continual and continuing loss ... though at its best it lures us into the future, but without letting us wonder why such lures are required." Our online connections feed our belief that changing the world is possible for all, reinforced through the numerous success stories we see of social entrepreneurs and innovators overcoming traditional limitations of space and time. Connectedness, in short, strengthens our belief in potential.
But as Phillips writes, a belief in potential to create change can bring disappointment and frustration, as we realize that the stories of social change we consume in our connected worlds are not always as readily achievable as we have been led to believe.

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  • Readers’ Picks 20


 Illiana 4 minutes ago
Oversharing is boorish and extremely tedious. I don't need to hear someone else's clinically detailed reports straight from oncology, as an example. But for very shallow people who have basically empty brains and lives, this hyperconnectedness may stimulate their cerebral tentacles. They will miss out on all the pleasures of a good read, a long hike in the woods, indeed any activity that is not punctuated by digital hyperness in checking one's metrics or email. Reliance on Chinese electronics must reassure those manufacturers in Guangdong and elsewhere that they have succeeded in eating up our occidental souls.

Dr. John Burch

 Mountain View, CA 8 minutes ago
Potentially, the smartphone can make the H-bomb obsolete - if the conversation is centered on holistic thinking, compassion, and the emergence of a global community with a culture that works for the benefit of all life. I wonder how we can make that transformation central to what the digital universe is doing.


 NJ 11 minutes ago
WQXR, New York's very wonderful radio station, has a program devoted to analog recordings on Sundays.

Yesterday while driving I heard Dvorak's "In Nature's Realm." It blew me away with its warmth, depth, and resonance. It sounded so alive.

Hearing it was ironic, as I'd heard a digital version (on an unrelated station) just a few days before while driving to Thanksgiving. It was pretty ho-hum.

You could attribute the difference to the conductor, orchestra, recording space, and other factors.

But the reality is, digital recording eliminates many of the overtones that give us richer harmonies and a fuller experience.

It's great analogy for personal vs. digital communications and friendships.

98% of communication is non-verbal. Digital friendships and communications are fine and have their place -- but we might all remember that they remove the overtones.

Life feels kinda flat without the real thing.

Thankfully, I have friends who feel the same way.

Lost in Space

 Champaign, IL 12 minutes ago
I am unconnected - no insta-this-and-that, no Facebook, etc. - and happy to be so. I don't seem to be missing much, but I have the feeling that the impact of social media is *much* more complex than this discussion suggests.

Jenifer Wolf

 New York 13 minutes ago
Noa: You & I your generation may 'seek social outlets'. Those of us who lives mostly happened before the digital age mostly stumbled into friendship & romance with actual people in the physical world. Now I see lots of people 'alone' on their devices, no doubt with imaginary connections with others, while totally ignoring those with whom they share physical space. I see couples in restaurants looking at & sometimes talking into there cell phones, paying no attention to their 'friend' or 'date' or spouse. I don't 'hate' the internet, as some of my contemporaries do, (it's great for all kinds of work) I just feel that your generation is using it as a substitute for social life.


 Atlanta 13 minutes ago
Digital connected-ness is a ruse promoted by the telecom giants and turned into fabulous profits.

Art Work

 new york, ny 14 minutes ago
Online? Offline?
Who says you can't do both ?


 Richmond 15 minutes ago
As it turns out, I don't want to know everything about my friends and family. I find I like them less the more I see their opinions/dinners/photos/"likes" on social media. It's possible to know too much about someone.


 Johns Island, SC 16 minutes ago
Maybe it's just the 21st Century version of Citizens' Band radio.

Bart Grossman

 Albany, CA 3 hours ago
When the internet was more about connection there were more positives. Nowadays it is more about consumption and ventilation. It seems to be making us more opinionated, less tolerant and stupider.

Bob Garcia

 Miami 6 hours ago
The term "digital connectedness" is hopelessly vague. It covers everything from someone who checks their e-mail a couple of times a day from a desktop, to the smartphone owner who keeps it on their person 7x24 and lets it pre-empt all other activities.

And none of the debaters mentions the growing use of social media as a means for the police and spy agencies to conduct surveillance on the population.

Matayah Fox

 Portland, OR 10 hours ago
I do not believe that the problem is that we do not have potential needed to change the world, but that social media leads us to believe that we should have all the potential. I believe that each of us contains potential unique to us, making us capable of changing the world no matter how small although digital connectedness could lead (and I believe does) many individuals to believe they have to change the entire world.


 Oakland Ca 10 hours ago
While I feel a physical withdrawal syndrome if I lose wifi or email - this dependence and all the fun conveniences (e.g. Buying music, checking facts, ordering stuff to be delivered to my door, etc.) is not really healthy.
Our brans develop in a complex experiential field of attachment, emotional valence, sights, smells and unconscious communication. Even the presence of Mirror Neurons indicate we are innately wired to feel real life and learn from it. It is essential nutrition.
On line 'relationships' are like processed food. They may be filling & easy, but they cause diabetes & obesity, omitting crucial nutrients. They also undermine organic farming & sustainable agriculture.
Tat is the analogy to cyber relational claims...it looks just like real human contact...but isn't hood for us.


 is a trusted commenter San Francisco 11 hours ago
It is absurd to frame this as an either/or debate. It is undoubtedly both good in some ways and bad in other ways.

We should be acknowledging the problems and find ways to compensate for that as well as celebrate the good aspects.

John Smith

 Cherry Hill NJ 11 hours ago
TWEETS R US--the new toy that's come out just in time for the holiday season. It's for the birds really. All of the interconnectedness still follows one universal truth about computers: GIGO = Garbage In Garbage Out. If we fill up social media with good stuff, that's what will come out. If we fill it up with trash and filth, that's precisely what we'll get out of it. With the added danger that these electronic devices that keep us interconnected are being used while people drive, and becoming a new source of violence and death in the US. Precisely what we don't need. If we use social media to supplement caring, nurturing relationships, then the outcome of the connectedness will enrich our lives. Perhaps the most powerful change is the shifting of personal emotional and physical boundaries. People express things online that would have been considered shameful by pre Internet generations. But now they're all there out in the open. We have yet to find out what the changes will be in our world if shame and guilt are eliminated from the broad spectrum of human emotion. When the hippies experimented with such interconnectedness in the 60s they were reviled and hated. But now it's cool to see how much you can show off on social media. As a child of the 60s, I'm not amused. I chose to be an interested observer back then. But now I'm dependent on social media to stay connected just like everyone else.

Patricia Mueller

 Parma, Ohio 11 hours ago
As an atheist I am really glad I can seek out anti-dogmatic ideology online, which makes me feel not so alone. Before digital media I was vilified and excommunicated by my own family.


 Delaware Valley 13 hours ago
The blessings of truly _personal_ connection are incomparable. So too, often, are the challenges.

To the extent that online communication becomes a starting point for knowing people face-to-face, I see it as a valuable asset.

To the extent that online communication displaces opportunities for knowing people face-to-face, I see it as a grievous loss.

Matt James

 NYC 13 hours ago
No one likes to hear an answer like, "it depends," but how can the answer be otherwise? The merits of digital connectedness are so heavily dependent on specific circumstances that, without the addition of better parameters, the question as posed is meaningless. Older people used to physical interactions with friends and family may feel left out of this "connectedness." Yet people my age really don't have a basis for comparison. This technology means that few people are ever "forced" to be alone. This technology means few people are ever really "allowed" to be alone. Digital connectedness enables disparate groups with unique viewpoints to interact regardless of distance. The same connectedness also enables some people to restrict their interactions solely to likeminded individuals and escape any reality that contradicts their worldview.

One might say: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

Matt D.

 New York 13 hours ago
I think there is major difference between messaging capabilities (WhatsApp and similar chat programs) that are generally used to communicate with closer friends and family, and broadcast capabilities that are generally used to communicate to broader circles (aka Facebook). The former has been very enriching while the latter has been somewhat negative. To that end, I have cut back tremendously on my Facebook usage, and have yet to sign up to another social media platform.


 Washington 14 hours ago
For whatever reason, face to face relationships in my small town have turned out to be mostly superficial and opportunistic. I tried for years to make real friends. I did finally find one, but there was a lot of frustration and hurt along the way.

Having a couple of close Internet friends has helped. I'm not knocking friendships that don't involve personal contact. Sometimes, it's all there is.

Art Work

 new york, ny 13 minutes ago
Online? Offline?
Who says you can't do both ?


 Portland, Oregon 14 hours ago
I've pondered the core consideration of the future of biology since reading Ray Kurzweil's, "The Singularity is Near." Do bio-technological enhancements further or curtail human spiritual evolution?

I'm invested in this question. I've devoted over a third of my adult life to a daily practice of yoga, meditation and chanting, seeking the fruits of our human biology. Yogic and transcendentalist myths reveal that our physical manifestation is a vehicle for our light body, or soul, to become manifest. This occurs when our capacity for observing closely the workings of our body leads to the realization that we are really more the observer than the object of our observations. In this evolved space, the words of Sri Aurobindo are understood, "We are consciousness, not life and form."

I found a video in my search after answers by the Dalai Lama in which he replies to an enquiry about a bio-technological future. He said, "I welcome the opportunity for my consciousness to be downloaded into a computer, or other form." With this statement, he supports the notion that we are more than our materiality, and that our materiality is simply a vehicle for our consciousness.

For those who have torn loose from the vales of self-discovery, ideation as consciousness is a state of being. In this state, one is both the individual observer and the whole of the object being observed, a holographic capacity that is both singular and collective, whether physically manifest or digital.

Andrew Peterson

 Groton MA 14 hours ago
If digital connectedness is a nice thing, then Election '16 demonstrated why we can't have nice things.


 CA 14 hours ago
"“Clicktivism” and “slacktivism” are derogatory terms for online activism. It suggests that digital campaigns do nothing more than generate likes on Instagram... Nothing could be further from the truth."
This is the other problem with on-line saturation - you come to believe that just saying "stuff" - makes it true "stuff".
Your two examples are movements where people are actually enacting change not clicking for change and they depend on the real life activities of various people to actually - you know - do "stuff". You want slactivism - how about #bringourgirlshome?
I go college - I see this slacktivism every day - and trust me - it takes a great deal of self-control to avoid falling prey to "mocktivism".

Hannah Marazzi

 Ottawa 14 hours ago
The irony is that many of your readers, myself included, are only able to participate in this debate by virtue of the online component of the New York Times on which this article is currently being featured.


 Siegel 14 minutes ago
The fact that the NY Times is online has nothing to do with this debate. Additionally, keeping in touch with friends and relatives around the globe is a nice feature of technology, but before e-mail there were telephones and before that there were letters. A friendship does not have worth based on the frequency of communication. This debate concerns the future of human relationships, and I doubt the full richness of relationships can ever be achieved online.

Roberto Fantechi

 Florentine Hills 14 hours ago
Like all things, it is just what you make of it. With a global family (son in London, daughter in Austin) and friends around the globe, it is a wonderful 'tool' to keep more than just in touch.


RFD digital connectionsAndré da Loba
People of all ages are spending more and more time online. Does this digital trend improve lives or hurt them?

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