Monday, January 10, 2011

Can we still interact with other human beings?

I've been thinking quite a lot about human interaction and its current state in this technology rich world. When I was matriculating at the University of MN doing graduate work, I studied computer-human interaction and I've spent the better part of my adult life working with people and computers (and often both at the same time).

Today, I see people (sometimes myself included) walking around with their heads down and thumbs rapidly moving across virtual keyboards on tiny computers. How we don't have more sidewalk crashes and injuries, I'll never know. We certainly know about the risks of doing this while driving. Additionally, when I am out to eat, I am amazed at how many people I see with their faces in their smartphones when they are sitting across from or with other people. Have we lost the ability to interact face-to-face with other human beings? I hope not!

Recently, an article from the Minneapolis StarTribune was brought to my attention that addresses this issue to some degree. The author, Nathan Eklund, discusses the need to close his mental tabs before he is able to fully interact with humans after a day spent assimilated into the technology that is now part of our everyday lives. A very interesting read if you have an extra three minutes or so!

If it takes that kind of effort to actually engage in a meaningful conversation with our friends or loved ones, I'm worried!

I did also find an interesting new product introduced this weekend at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. You remember the boom boxes of the early 80's, right? It was the way people shared music at the time. People, most often kids, actually gathered together to listen to music and share experiences (of all kinds!!) Today, the kids walk around with earbuds stuck in their ears and sometimes share a playlist without any face-to-face interaction at all. Maybe this is OK, but it just doesn't seem right to me.

Enter TDK, a company I remember for their cassette tapes. They have released a 21st century version of the boombox that allows users to plug in an mp3 player or other USB device. I'm not sure it will catch on, but I'm glad to see someone still trying to support real human interaction.