Technologies: New and Old

Posted by on Apr 17, 2012

I recently heard someone my age (I’m 56) bemoaning the loss of the ability to reason by people my kids’ ages (they’re in their 20s). “The younger generation can’t reason because they’re so busy texting or updating their Facebook page or tweeting or whatever it is that they’re doing all the time,” he ranted.

It is not often that I feel like the “young, hip” one in a conversation but, on this occasion, I felt as spry as can be. To be sure, I have my misgivings about technology. It can erode attention spans and damage interpersonal skills. But I’m not convinced that those in their 20s have a corner on the market on rude manners, shallow thinking, or flawed reasoning simply because they spend so much time on Facebook.

In fact, I am rather encouraged by the abilities that some twenty-somethings display when it comes to complex, sustained arguments.

Here’s when I began to wonder if the new technology might even be better for some forms of discussion than the older ones. Not too long ago, within the span of just a few days, I participated in two different programs addressing the same topic – evangelism. One was a live radio interview, culminating with listeners calling in to pose questions. The second event was entitled a “blogference,” which took place entirely on the internet over the course of 48 hours. People asked me questions, via email or texting. I typed my answers. Others responded, etc.

The total amount of time I was on the radio was one hour. The total amount of time I spent answering people’s questions and reading responses wasn’t much more than an hour, albeit spread out over the course of two days.

The radio interview was old technology. The blogference was new. The radio audience was closer to my age. The internet audience was closer to my sons’ ages.

Here’s my point: The old technology did not allow for deep interaction. The new technology did. In fact, I would say the old technology thwarted any depth of conversation or thought. No segment of the radio show was longer than 10 minutes, each with numerous interruptions for commercials, music, station identification, weather updates, and traffic reports. On several occasions, I was interrupted by the host who “clarified” what I was trying to say to the caller. In fact, in most situations, she interjected things that were very different than the point I was trying to make. And time would not allow for clarifying things.

The old radio show allowed for no more than one statement per side. The caller posed a question and I answered. There was no follow up or “That’s not quite what I meant” or similar extension of thought. In fact, the whole experience felt terribly disjointed to me.

The blogference, by contrast, allowed us all to dig down into deeper levels of discussion about the topic. I was impressed with both the complexity of thought and richness of conversation we could develop in a short period of time.

So…it may indeed be annoying to have friends texting away while you’re trying to converse with them. And we may be developing patterns of rudeness that harm our intimacy and friendship. I’m even in favor of having some “tech-free” times in our lives so we can focus, listen, converse, and interact with only those we’re physically near. (Try it sometime. It might be difficult at first. But the rewards are worth the effort).

But new technology may not be as universally bad as some of us “old” folks think.


  1. Hank Zimon
    April 17, 2012

    Hi Randy and All! You discussion reminded me of the long, ongoing discussion led by Robert Putnam on the demise of human interaction and its implications. He began the debate with his famous book entitled Bowling Alone which is really a terrific piece of work albeit tedious because of the extensive research he presents along the way. Basic argument is similar — that people no longer base their thinking and decision-making on human interaction and debate because they instead rely on one way communications from talking heads, radio, TV, cell phones, etc, rather than the discussions formerly held at bowling alleys, social clubs and many more such venues. I understand your points about technology, but I continue to be concerned about the other also and worry that our development of human capital through human interaction is changing our culture and I am not sure yet of the implications. There was concern about the similar implications of home schooling and the lack of regular social interaction, and I believe some of those concerns have been assuaged as they relate to the intellectual development dimension, but I am still not sure about the social development side. Anyway, thanks and a very important and interesting topic.

  2. Facebook and Loneliness | Randy Newman
    May 29, 2012

    […] As I’ve written before, thinking about technology’s effects on us as persons is a very important topic for our day and age. The simplistic extremes of “It’s all good” or “It’s all bad” won’t help us to use technology intelligently. Is Facebook making us lonely? It probably is for some people but not all. Does it have to? Certainly not. […]


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