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Human connection: Not found

Your coffee cup smiles back at you, your phone assistant sounds more human than your colleague. Artificial intelligence and increasingly animate objects have helped push connectivity and according to UK-based research company Juniper, the number of connected devices, sensors and actuators will exceed 46 billion by 2021. But are we connecting with things more than we are connecting with people? Gulf News readers debate.

  • Amna Yousuf, HR associate living in DubaiImage Credit: Supplied
  • Jane Bristol-Rhys, Associate Professor, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Zayed UniversityImage Credit: Supplied
  • Mohammad Zuhair, Petroleum engineer living in Abu DhabiImage Credit: Supplied
  • Yousuf Stapic, Social meida professional living in DubaiImage Credit:
  • Image Credit:
Gulf News

Convenient

Talking to people now is on a need-to basis

We are definitely connecting with things more than people. I think the problem lies with how easy technology has become nowadays and that is overtaking connections. On social media, no one is judging you. You don’t have to pay more attention to how you might come across to someone, you don’t have to think too much on anything really, you’re on your own. On the other hand, when you are dealing with people, you have to think about how they would perceive you. For example, I am not a social person, I would go up to people and talk to them normally, but I would always wonder, “What would they think of me?” Now, because of technology, people don’t judge you or find you weird, which is convenient. But that definitely has affected human connection. It is not easy to spend time with people as much as we used to. Back in the day, we knew who our neighbours were. That’s a big deal – we don’t know who our neighbours are anymore. It seems like we now don’t want to interact with people directly unless it is necessary. Why bother? If I need to know something, why ask someone? Why not just Google?

Because of this environment, people like me who would probably be called introverts are going further into a bubble. The way things are right now, it allows you to stay in that bubble. But then again this is not normal, right? We are people, we need the human connection. It is absolutely abnormal and it definitely has affected my quality of life.

From Ms Amna Yousuf

HR associate living in Dubai

Hope

Life is not balanced right now and people are getting used to it

Yes, people are definitely connecting with things more than people. They are constantly engaged with their phones or tablets. If you go to a restaurant, you can see that people are together, but only physically. Mentally, they would be somewhere else, talking to people who are not in their gathering.

I am someone who prefers meeting face-to-face. My friends are like me, so they too like to socialise. But even then my interactions with people have decreased, and that is for a lot of reasons, not just the fact that we seem to be connecting with things. Life has gotten busy, many of my friends have moved to other parts of the world. One of the biggest things that I feel is that an hour is no longer enough, time goes by too quickly. People too are always in a hurry. Because people are worried about job security and are doing a lot more work, they don’t mind putting in more hours at the office. So, life is definitely not balanced at the moment but what I hate about this is that people are getting used to it. I am someone who does not accept the current status because I really do want things to be balanced.

Even though some stores draw smiley faces on cups, I really hope as humanity we have not reached that point where we are replacing human connection with a cup smiling back at you. I would rather have someone in front of me, smiling back at me. We are human beings; we talk, we interact, it is good to have things express certain emotions but that will never truly bring happiness in the long term.

From Mr Mohammad Zuhair

Petroleum engineer living in Abu Dhabi

Irony

Distances have reduced and increased at the same time

I work in the field of social media and agree that people are more connected to their devices than real people. Nowadays, in any family gathering it is typical to see people talk for a bit but then quickly start snapping pictures of the food. One of the key factors why people are connecting with their devices is that it gives them the celebrity factor. Everybody wants to be popular and getting friend requests and likes gives them an emotional boost. But even when you think of ice creams with eyes and a smile put on them, people might take it lightly but that’s how people thought of when artificial intelligence first came on the scene. Today, computer programmes are creating their own code and communicating with other programmes. Even Elon Musk thinks it is getting dangerous.

We definitely need technology, especially when it comes to precision. For example, I recently watched a video which compared a surgeon with a robot’s surgery. The robot was a lot more precise, even though the surgeon had many more years of experience. But if you have a psychologist compared to a chatbot counsellor, I think wherever you have to deal with emotions, you have to have human beings.

Coming back to our connection with things, a lot of people live what I call the façade lifestyle where everyone wants to show off. But this is creating a gap within us — I feel the gap in my life. If I compare my own life right now to what it was 20 years ago, I was non-existent online because there was just Myspace. When I wanted to be with friends I would hang out with them. Now you just end up chatting on Facebook. But in other respects, things are much better. My father, for example, lives in Saudi Arabia and while earlier I would speak to him once a month, may be, now I can chat with him everyday. It is quite ironic — the people who were far away have come closer but we have become more distant with people who are physically closer to us.

From Mr Yousuf Stapic

Social meida professional living in Dubai

Filtering life

Our communications are less honest, personal and more exaggerated

I would both agree and disagree. People are not communicating as much face-to-face, but they are probably communicating with a greater number of people than ever before. A tweet can reach countless numbers of people, that was never possible when communicating individually. So, it is a conundrum. We are communicating with more people but less honestly, less personally and more briefly than ever before.

Our communication is often times punctuated with smiley faces or a thumbs up or exaggerated, like Snapchat filters with bunny ears or dog faces. So, it is a new bizarre kind of communication. Suddenly, we can communicate with people we would never meet. So people are very carefully curating the stories they send out and managing the pictures they want up on their Instagram feed. We are faced with the choice now that we never had in the past — we can broadcast our opinions. But at the end of the day, it is a choice. You don’t ‘have to’ communicate with Siri or Alexa. You can disable them on your devices, I know I have because it drives me mad.

But when it comes to connecting with things, people have always been attached to things. For example, people have been attached to cars since cars existed, especially men. So, again, all of these are choices. I realise that in the modern world, a lot of people have to work two jobs, or more, to make a living and for them it might not be a choice to communicate with other people through things, but for many others it is definitely a choice.

We did a poll on campus and I had students observe students walking in. They had to observe if a student was walking in alone, how many times they were on the phone, to give the impression that they were actually communicating with someone, because in our society, it is just not considered cool anymore to be alone. If you are with your phone obviously there is a friend at the end of it, so in the process, spending time with your own self is taking a hit.

The ability to spend time with yourself, the ability to read something longer than a tweet, is all taking a hit. Fortunately, the book industry is still thriving but, with the younger generation, I do worry.

The inability to spend time with your own self is going to have an impact. If you look at philosophy, philosphers spent a lot of time thinking and pondering the big questions in life without being distracted or without having to immediately communicate. They would spend time to think about their own experiences and observations until they were ready to communicate. That is what I worry about – where are the next philosphers, the deep thinkers, going to come from? I don’t see them in the Snapchat generation. If I see another picture with bunny ears, I will vomit.

But as with most things that happen, with human history there is a new trend and people worry that civilisation is dying. I think we should just wait and people will become bored with what is currently happening, miss interacting with people and change their behaviour. Young people today will go on to have children and realise that they can’t Snapchat with their six-month-old. So, there is hope.

From MS Jane Bristol

Associate Professor, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Zayed University

— Compiled by Huda Tabrez/Community Web Editor

Poll question: In today’s world, do you feel you interact with things more than people?

Yes

No

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