Technology and Socializing: A Double-Edged Sword

(That title may sound misleadingly academic. There is nothing scientific or researchy about this post.)

Shut•in

Someone who doesn’t like to deal with people all the time. That prefers staying at home and enjoying him or herself over going out with friends. Someone who prefers and embraces solitude and who finds it exhausting to be around large groups of people. Shut Ins, or Recluses as some put it, are viewed negatively because they are misunderstood and labeled as “weird”, or “lacking social skills.”  This however is a major misconception. Many shut ins, or introverts, actually have very good social skills but only use them in the given situation that they are in. They hate small talk and meaningless conversations. They prefer real talk, talk that has meaning and isn’t a waste of their time and yours.

Urban Dictionary

I’ve always been an introvert and a loner.  As a child, if you gave me a stack of books and He-Man toys (pre-Dolph Lundgren) I’d vanish for hours.

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My best friend growing up. Not too shabby

I had small, manageable groups of friends in high school and college that I can’t even remember making, I was so painfully introverted.  If you’ll forgive me an “in MY day” moment, back then if you wanted to make friends you had to talk to people FACE TO FACE, or at the very least on the phone. None of these texting or Facebooking shortcuts. It was HELL (for people like me).

I remember the internet starting up. I remember the wonder of AOL chatrooms, this marvelous breakthrough in social media. It was like being at a bar or a party, but you didn’t have to leave your house!  I would talk to any stranger who came along (provided they weren’t rude or creepy), because it was all so very modern.

I missed the MySpace craze (probably because I didn’t have a band), but got sucked into Facebook. I’m aware of Twitter, Instagram, etc., but frankly, most days Facebook all by itself is too much togetherness for me.

Before the internet, I sought out jobs where I could work alone until striking the jackpot with my current work-at-home position, which, if not impossible, must have been a great deal more challenging to perform without an online connection.

Working from home had an insidious effect on me though — the more I stayed at home, the less I wanted to leave. I’ve been doing this job for about 15 years now, and suddenly I woke up one morning and realized I was a shut-in. I’m perfectly capable of making brief jaunts to the mailbox, and unfortunately still have to drive across town 1-2 times a week to work the hospital.  I suppose being unable to manage this would make me agoraphobic, not at all the same thing. I CAN leave the house, I just vastly prefer not to.

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No offense. Plus I love inspirational-looking memes with curse words

I hear complaints that technology is isolating us from each other. I can see where you’d think that if you saw a group of people sitting together staring at their phones.  And it might be a real problem for kids who have always had the internet, but older folks like me can go for whole hours without touching our phones…mostly.

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To be fair, this could be four complete strangers for all we know

But the thing is, technology has made being a shut-in not only a feasible way of life, but a downright enjoyable one. I’ve got my 3D Blu-ray player/TV, I’ve got my Xbox 360 and PS3, I’ve got my GojiPlay (exercise equipment companion; see me after class for more info if you like).  It’s like living at a Club Med.

And I have Facebook for the rare occasions I feel the urge to socialize (and I very much appreciate the option to socialize on my terms when I’m in the mood. Takes most of the pressure off). If not for Facebook, I wouldn’t talk to anyone but Tery and my cats (and my friend Gerry, who wisely spaces out our visits enough for me to miss him). So technology actually makes me a little less isolated.

But for me isolation isn’t a dirty word. And now I have a new technological marvel aiding me in my quest to experience things without dealing with people.  Virtual reality glasses. I woke up one morning, and from nowhere the words “oculus rift” popped into my head. What?  Are you talking to me, universe?

Straight to Amazon, my first stop for all online shopping. Oculus Rift is the super big deal coming down the pike, for several hundred dollars. But an Amazon search revealed Google Cardboard, the super cheap alternative available now. Unlike the Rift, which will be PC powered, Google Cardboard works with any existing smartphone. Essentially a glorified Viewmaster, you slide your phone into a tray (with an appropriate app loaded up), strap it to your head, and get transported to a different world.

I won’t bore you with all the headsets I went through (four) before deciding on which to keep (again, see me after class if you’d like recs).   So far the usefulness is admittedly limited due to the price of 360° cameras, but there’s already a smattering of videos on YouTube. This one is my favorite, which puts you center stage during the opening number of The Lion King on Broadway.

Why is this better than traditional video?  Because you can look in the direction of your choosing, not the camera operator’s.  And why is this better with a headset? Because it blocks out everything else and you really feel like you’re there.  I get tears in my eyes every time I watch this, it feels so incredible. (For Harry Potter fans, I consider it the Muggle equivalent of a Pensieve.)

Here’s my second favorite, where you get right up Matt Bellamy’s nose.

Why would I ever go to a concert again when I can be two feet from the band in my own living room?   Some people don’t mind fighting crowds and traffic and putting up with crappy seats to be there live.  I’m not one of them.

There are videos of skydiving, shark and dolphin dives, apartment tours, museum exhibits, short horror films and award-winning documentaries.  The whole world two inches from your nose.

Other applications currently available are rollercoaster simulators, dinosaur safaris (also simulated, it hopefully goes without saying) and a few video games.  Even some porn sites are hopping on the bandwagon (my editor wrote a very amusing review) (oh right, “my editor.”  I somehow stumbled into becoming a tech journalist).

It’s all still in the infant stage, but there’s more coming. For shut-ins like me, it’s VERY exciting.   This is the future of entertainment*, and I. Can’t. Wait.  Introverts unite!  (Alone, in our separate houses)

The good news is, VR glasses will mean the end of the Age of Selfies; you can't see a damn thing outside

The good news is, VR glasses will mean the end of the Age of Selfies; you can’t see a damn thing outside of them

*If we manage not to blow ourselves up

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2 thoughts on “Technology and Socializing: A Double-Edged Sword

  1. “introverts unite (alone in our separate houses)” made me laugh out loud on the trolley and that says a lot because I typically sit all scrunched up, barely breathing, because God forbid someone looks at me on here!

    I was never an introvert. I was that big mouth that you either loved or hated in high school. I think the Internet made me an introvert. My social skills aren’t all that bad (I tend to get hyperbolic when I describe how awkward I am), but it takes me much longer to warm up and feel comfortable in a social setting anymore.

    However, if it wasn’t for having my phone as a crutch, I’m sure I would be going to concerts alone these days. But then, if the Internet hadn’t made me fear small talk….Sigh.

    Those glasses sound AMAZING. I’m surprised Chooch hasn’t been hounding us for a pair yet.

    • Haha, I thought everyone knew that joke already (shows how much I pay attention to the world). I have a friend on FB/real life, we both desperately want to hang out, but we’re both such shut-ins that we can’t bridge the gap. That’s slightly tragic, I suppose.

      I don’t remember really hating anyone in school except the kids that were actively mean to me (and there were a few). But of course in hindsight I think I’m glossing over a lot of my high school memories.

      It makes me a little sad. I used to love going to concerts, but now the expense and the hassle overshadows what’s so great about them. I hope you never stop because I love your write-ups and it’s obviously your real passion.

      You know, I now have three VR headsets (long boring story, as I mentioned above), which I certainly don’t need that many. The first pair I essentially got for free because the company refunded me but insisted I keep them when I pointed out what I didn’t like in an Amazon review. I have no idea what to do with them, but I’d be happy to send them to you and Chooch (might get Tery to stop making fun of how many pairs I have lying around!) It’s the least I could do to repay you for your amazing Robert art. 🙂

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