Summary: 41st Gentle Thinkers Debate (Modern Technology and Relationships)

Does modern technology make us more connected or more isolated? How do technology and internet affect human relationships? Are these trends reversible?

This summary is interpreted from notes taken during the first debate on this topic and may contain errors. It is not a definitive text and should be used a means of sharing and developing ideas. Edits have been made to make this summary easy to read therefore it does not reflect the actual flow of conversation.

If you wish to correct mistakes, be attributed to or contribute content, please contact me or post a comment.

More summaries can be found in the Summary Index.

What is the percentage of people who use the internet? Some studies have indicated that the two groups of people who use social media the most fall within two income brackets: less than $33000 or more than $75000 a year.

Internet users, by age group, 2012–13 [Via Australian Bureau of Statistics]


New technology has always changed how people connect and communicate with each other. There will always be positive and negative outcomes.

It helps long distance communication, has helped social and political revolutions occur in countries like Egypt and Iran, and provides people with news outlets that isn’t controlled by the government.

Through modern technology, rural communities can connect and interact with the world. One member noted that people in rural communities may have a better work and life balance because they aren’t constantly looking at screens.

Technology can harm personal relationships. People seem to rely on texts or emails instead of having face to face interactions with others.

An Australian telecommunications provider did a survey which suggests 10% of Australians are using their phones during love making [Source].

Would reliance on online and mobile communication make humans less compassionate? Some people worry that technology encourages a lack of intimacy and prevents people from making meaningful connections with others.

Some members remarked that they worry about the young who are growing up with the constant and widespread use of technology that encourages online social relationships instead of face-to-face interactions. We may see trends with some people lacking the social skills to communicate with others. Some members have noted that people are stuck to their smart phones during social and business events which prompts the question, why bother attending the event?

For some, modern technology and online social networks allow us to maintain connections with friends and family when separated by distance. We can feel involved through others sharing their experiences.

We may be more connected in some ways but other factors have changed. Different social and language skills are developing due to the rise of technology. Whether this is bad has yet to be confirmed but some members did express a concern towards this.

Some of us take more time to think about our responses to others when using email or social media. Despite us trying to craft our responses, words can be taken out of context very easily as written text can lack the nuance of speech. This especially true when communicating online.

Factors like words, tone and body language drive the effectiveness of communication between people. Unless we can see a person, communication won’t be as effective and we’d be likely to misinterpret each other.

The capacity to work from home can encourage and improve performance in the work place and help us achieve work and life balance. Office communication can be more efficient with emails, messaging applications and online conferences. We can communicate much easier over long distances and overcome international time zones.

Does the significance of a communication method and the time it takes a person to respond depend on a person’s gender or age? Some members have suggested either characteristic may influence the importance of responding to a text sent to a friend. Some people are more likely to demand an explanation for why you haven’t responded while others aren’t bothered at all.

How do we make friends? For some people, this is quite easy and they can make friends with people they meet on a bus. For others, it’s quite difficult to meet people with similar interests. Does modern technology and the culture of social media affect our ability to make and keep friends?

There was outrage when TV was introduced and concerns that it would turn people into idiots. These days you may hear “Isn’t it a shame that we don’t gather around the TV anymore?”.

Mobile, video and computer games may encourage people to avoid interacting with others and result in others developing problems with compulsion and addiction. There have been numerous documented cases where video game compulsion and addiction has serious and fatal impacts on people’s lives.

Games like Second Life and World of Warcraft are commonly cited examples of how games have heavily integrated into the real world lives of people or have replaced real world experiences for some.

Online communities can offer a welcoming environment for those who are interested in subversive and niche cultures, and for those who are looking for people with similar interests.

The accessibility and spread of smart phones has changed how we research and answer questions, and how we learn of the opinions of others. “Have you Googled it?” is often a way of fact checking instead of engaging others in conversation about the world.

The origins of were born from connecting with neighbours in the aftermath of 9/11. [’s blog] is an online means of organising real life social events. The fact that we use it indicates that we still have a strong desire to engage with others in person.

Cyber bullying affects real life and we still haven’t developed effective strategies for combating this. Some members have suggested that the public humiliation of the victim may be the driving force of cyber bullying. Unlike bullying in the real world, cases of cyber bullying are logged and can be tracked, and a bully may not be able to hide under an online pseudonym.

One of the problems is encouraging children to report bullying. As adults we may not understand what children consider as important motives or items that will help them belong within the desirable social groups.

Some people have problems with not being able to separate their online and real lives and develop their own little world online. Teaching children and adults the difference between these two may help them deal with harassment or reduce time spent online.

The differences between a person’s real life and online personas may be quite interesting and indicates their reliance on their other selves.

People take umbrage when their identity is attacked which can have repercussions in the real and online worlds.

Revenge porn and online blackmail are other cases of the internet negatively affecting people’s lives. It’s debatable if viral videos of pub and street fights, and racial discrimination will change cultural norms, or have positive or negative effects on society.

Modern technology has improved the communication of news events. The news that the World War II ended took a very long time to disseminate throughout the world and would be instantaneous now days.

Quality versus quantity – Due to online social networks we may have more acquaintances but we should be looking to have better relationships with a smaller number of people.

Disabled people are empowered through modern technology as they now have a variety of means to communicate with others and more chances to make relationships.

Some members of the group who work as teachers have noticed a massive impact on education. Laptops are now a common sight in classrooms and this brings up questions on how to ensure children aren’t using the laptop for personal use and whether skills like writing are being lost?

There have been some counter-movements in the US with some schools refusing to use modern technology to teach students. One member noted that despite peddling new technologies, some Silicon Valley CEOS are sending their children to these schools.

If you haven’t got the capacity to interact with people, technology is good. If you can’t interact through and with technology, you may experience some problems in our contemporary world.

Does distance encourage people to call home more often? Some members recalled them or their children developing better relationships with their parents due to “homesickness” while overseas.

Are we changing the ways children’s brains are wired by introducing them to modern technology at an early age? Some members believed that this is true and were concerned that the social skills would be lost during children’s formative years.

[New Scientist article] [ABC opinion piece]

Online dating favours those who are better at advertising themselves despite gender stereotypes [TED Talk]. Being able to choose your preferences for a potential partner lowers the chances of spontaneity that happens when people meet in person.

Online dating may also encourage a false level of trust to develop through limiting communication between two people to online means. False perceptions, and high and unrealistic expectations may develop which could dramatically change the relationship when partners meet in real life.

Staring at screens 24/7 could cause permanent damage to your eyes as they are built for looking at 3D objects, not 2D. It’s recommended that we take regular breaks every 20 minutes to refresh our vision by looking at objects that at least 20 metres away.

One member commented that younger acquaintances of his believed it took six text messages to organise a social gathering. Other members agreed that this was problematic as a single phone call would be more efficient.

Does the use of emoticons (smiley faces etc.) and internet slang anagrams (e.g. LOL, BRB) denote positivity in online speech? One member noted that use of this kind of language suggested that people were constantly reaffirming their friendship. For some, using this language may prevent misinterpretations from happening.

For some a smart phone is a status symbol, it’s a sign that you have friends.

The widespread use of smart phones also brings up questions of privacy or lack thereof. Some members expressed outrage that information and profile settings for online accounts are often set to be public rather than private. These settings are also difficult to find which brings up the question of “why?”. For some people, there may be a cultural assumption that the information on free online accounts is public because there are low expectations with a free service.

Some members believed that modern technology will reduce the quality of communication as we are spending more time crafting our responses and losing natural and uncontrolled reactions.

Grocho Marx – “I have principles but if you don’t like them, I have others.”

Some members have admitted to looking up their names and that of others through Google out of curiosity. Facebook stalking also allows us to compare ourselves against our contemporaries.

Some people use online pseudonyms and to protect their privacy.

Consequences of posting things online may come back to haunt you and people need to bear responsibility for what they publish online.

Prospective employers may search for you and judge you by the content found. Some people may judge you for not having an online profile with services like LinkedIn or Facebook.

Some studies have confirmed that people have positive experiences with social media when they post content and receive likes. Negative experiences are more likely to arise when people look at the “better” lives of other users.

Online social networks may be encouraging another form of social ineptitude – narcissism.

Wide-spread use of technology has changed how some people interact with the world, such as watching an event through your smart phone as you film it.

Interesting questions posed by the group

Technology like emails, smart phones and social media is here to stay, so how do we manage it?

Is it a good thing that information is now easily accessible?

Why do we use the internet?

Do we spend too much time texting? Would we be more effective communicators if we just called each other?

Are people making less phone calls and emails, and increasing their use of online social networks to communicate?

Do we text because we don’t want to give up our time to communicate to another person? Or do we use text as a means of communicating without bothering the recipient as they can read it in their own time?

Is modern technology negatively affecting younger generations?

Is modern technology just a tool? Would we still exhibit similar behaviour if we didn’t have a smart phone or computer? Would you still be self-interested if you didn’t have a Facebook account?

Do we miss out on the world because we’re glued to our screens?

Who is connected to the internet? Are there still places in the world without an internet connection? Is the desire for global or online communication cultural or personal?

How much time do we spend online? How has it influenced communication and relationships between people?

What are the rates of cyber bullying occurring within school aged children?

Who monitors and moderates online social networks for children? Should we monitor and moderate for children?

Should we restrict the age of social media users to be 18+ and include proof of identity requirements?

Can the internet create communities and make existing ones stronger?

Is there a case of a suicide happening that was caused by cyber bullying?

How many kids and adults have smart phones? Do we understand why people desire these items? Are we bad parents for allowing our children to have these devices? Would a child be less inclined to desire a smart phone if their parents made them pay for it?

Are online courses more effective than traditional methods ?

Is writing still a technique or skill being taught to students? Has it been replaced by typing? Some studies suggest that writing is still a vital skill [Science Daily article] [Scientific American article]

Is having a lot of friends a numbers game? Should it be?

Has modern technology made us lazier?

Does gender effect how we communicate? Does social media favour the (stereotypical ) communication skills and methods of men?

Would we lose social skills forever by neglecting to restore or learn the techniques, or would we never know how to interact?

How do we define better or bad social skills?

What are the advantages of modern technology? Are we making too much fuss over the pros and cons? Is it overrated? Are we unnaturally changing ourselves and culture?

If we are using internet slang anagrams in everyday speech, is language changing for the worse?

Are we obsessed with the internet? Why are people constantly checking their social media accounts?

Is there an expectation for us to be available 24/7 with modern technology?

How many content censors does China use to filter content delivered to its citizens?

Is technology going to improve society?

How effective is the “Do Not Call Register”?

Online social networks put pressure on people to entertain their audience but does it also encourage narcissism?

Has how we report on social events changed from previous generations? Are we focusing on different aspects when documenting these?

Are you less likely to lie about yourself through a public profile?

Is it a problem that we accept using “bullshit” in job applications and promotions? Or is it a problem when we don’t employ these tactics?

Why have Facebook likes become an important commodity for some people? Why has this form of engagement become valuable?

Do people reminisce and take time to go over their online profiles as one would with a photo collection?

Does selfies and online content have value for the owners or their friends?

Were slide nights a narcissistic act or a method of arm chair travelling?

Are humans becoming more narcissistic? Is this a bad trend?

Is Facebook the equivalent of small town gossip?

Does modern technology make people less friendly towards each other?

Do parents know what their children are doing online?

As contemporary society is wealthier than previous ones and because we have ready access to information, are we become less dependent on support from communities? Have we stopped asking others for directions? Are we preferring to purchase our own objects rather than borrowing them off our neighbours?

Are we becoming more isolated? Does this have to do with the integration of technology with our lives or how we’ve designed and constructed our cities?

Does it take an emergency to get us to know the neighbours?

Should we make places that encourage people to interact with each other even by chance? [Buzzfeed article on Pixar’s Steve Jobs building]

What about people who don’t want to make friends? Or have trouble making friends due to poor mental health and other circumstances?

Why do we like and want control of our personal data? Do we fear people will judge us for being a certain way?

Does an internet profile allow people to discriminate against each other?

How do we regulate online discussion?

How do we manage cyber and in real life bullying?

We have lost our traditional social meeting places like community and dance halls, and churches but have they been replaced by others, like cafes?

Has the demographics of church goers changed over time?

Are all bullies cowards? Do they have their own problems?

Does publicity and anonymity factor into cyber bullying?

Are we developing a vicious cycle of narcissism though online social networks?

Could we develop new social protocols? Would this change how people interact offline and online? Does every generation change social protocols?

Do parenting styles effect how children develop?

If parents set the rules at an early age, would we have less bullying?

Why do people take photos of their meal? Do they have a problem with food? A member suggested that some research indicates that some common traits among these food bloggers may indicate that they have a mental problem with food.

How effective is small talk at finding out who’s interesting?


Additional content

James Randi – Professional magician, skeptic and paranormal investigator [New York Times article].

The link between crime rates and the use of lead in petrol

Did the widespread use of lead destroy the Roman Empire?

Film recommendation: Eraser [IMDB entry]

Anti-suicide Twitter app – Samaritans Radar [Wikipedia entry]

Pass the Salt [YouTube Video]

The Winter of Our Disconnect  [ page] [Daily Telegraph article]

Couch surfing [Official Website] [New Yorker article]

People will illegally download content because there aren’t any repercussions in place. For now..

Over parenting

Small town syndrome

Adam Smith and self interest (often taken out of context)

Ayn Rand’s cult of self interest

Anonymity of internet interactions


More summaries can be found in the Summary Index.


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