March 2003
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Human Interaction: A Thing of the Past?
By Erin Penney, SNN Editor, St. Mark's School, King's Cove, NL

We've all experienced it in some form or another; a robot-like voice from a machine telling us to press 1 to do this, press 2 to do something else. Person to person interaction is quickly becoming a primitive thing of the past.

In recent years, with the ever increasing role that technology is playing in everyday life, it's becoming almost impossible to have actual interaction with another person. Companies and businesses, in the name of practicality and efficiency, have cut many jobs that once held the place that a recording or a machine now does.

I personally deem the ability to interact with others extremely important, no matter what age we're living in. This ability, I fear, is being threatened by today's high tech world. Yes, technology is helping us in ways we never thought imaginable, but there has to be a way for it to help us, without taking away human interaction. The words cold and impersonal come to mind, when I think of the majority of today's communications. This, therefore will create, over time, a cold and impersonal society with cold and impersonal people.

Some elderly citizens, or anyone not used to technology, would much rather have the old fashioned face to face method of paying bills, or taking care of other business, instead of dealing with a pre-recorded voice or internet. These people should definitely be given the option of interacting with another person. Because let's face it, the internet and banking machines can be intimidating for an 80 year old who certainly did not grow up with technology like my generation.

Besides the bill paying and commercial aspect of technology affecting our interpersonal relations, we need to consider how technology and the information age is affecting our relationships with friends, and loved ones. I don't know about you, but I find e-mails to be cold and sterile. I'd much rather receive a handwritten note in my mail box, than an e-mail, any day. A handwritten note shows that the person took the time to sit down, and put thought behind what they were writing. In contrast, an email is usually typed while the sender is downloading music, shopping, paying bills, or completing countless other tasks. Therefore, the result is, in most cases, a jumbled flurry of poorly thought out sentences, usually typed in less than five minutes. Which of the two says "I care" louder? Definitely the more personalized handwritten note.

In Newfoundland, more than other places, we are feeling the effects of technology on our contact with others. Before telephones and cars became so popular in outport Newfoundland, visiting was the way communication occurred. But around the 1950s, later in some areas, these lengthy visits became replaced with quick phone calls. Often you can hear the older generation still lamenting over the loss of this friendship strengthening activity of the past.

And as technology became even more advanced over the years, we've become able to select which calls we respond to, thanks to caller id. It's really convenient for eluding telemarketers, but sometimes we find ourselves not answering calls from friends, because we're too tired, too busy, and the list of excuses goes on. It makes me wonder if communications technology, with all its perks, is not making us subconsciously just a little bit unfriendly and cold.

I further wonder if it's a coincidence that mental health problems among North Americans is increasing, with the rise of the more impersonal, technology driven society that we are quickly becoming. It's a scientific fact that interaction with friends, by which I mean face to face interaction, not chatting on the internet or talking on the phone, triggers the release of oxytocins in the brain which reduces stress levels.

It's a basic human need to have interaction with others of its species. It's a simple biological fact, and we need it in healthy doses. Like John Donne said so many years ago "no man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.." This concept knows no aging. Human nature and needs have not changed since John Donne's 18th century. The only thing that has, is the way we live and, ever noticeably, the manner in which we communicate... or don't.



Deanne Curnew, 17, Little Burnet Bay, NL
I found this article to be brilliantly developed, as well as highly entertaining. It was indeed both sobering and challenging. Thanks to Erin Penney for having such a great insight on the value of human interaction as society once knew it. I hope that many others will read it and find it to be as alerting as I did.


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