Caught a bolt of lightning, cursed the day he let it go…

You can’t unmake an idea.

Humans have tried. Ideas have been forgotten, destroyed by destroying everyone who knows about their existence, and locked away for years, but once you know something, you can’t unknow it. Even if you do away with whomever had the idea in the first place, you know what the idea was to want to get rid of it, and there’s no way around that.

I was speaking with someone a few days ago who stated they’re afraid that digital media will do away with so much face to face human interaction that it will be bad for humanity in general. I’ve actually thought about this in the past, and dismissed the idea.

Human interaction is a generally positive process in which ideas are exchanged. A negative outcome might be reached based on the information exchanged, but the overall interaction itself is one of information building.

For instance, we’ll look at two children on a playground. Tommy tells Billy that his mommy is a ‘fat ho-bag’, which makes Billy cry. Obviously a negative outcome, but Billy still received information he didn’t have before. Receiving information we didn’t have before is a positive process. It always opens up new options for us. In the previous example, Billy might pay a little more attention to what’s going on in his household, decide not to let his life turn out like mommy’s, and go on to be a wicked cool guy. Of course, he might decide to make Tommy eat the mud from under the swingset. If we’re lucky, both might occur.

All the technology we have allows us to interact on levels we didn’t previously interact on. I talk to people on a daily basis, through Facebook and Twitter, that I used to talk to only a few times a year. I’m part of their daily community, and they’re part of mine. We support each other with little messages every day, and let each other know what’s going on.

In the past, this was always done based on geographic boundaries. Your neighbors live close to you, so you can easily interact with them on a daily basis. If you were surrounded by people you didn’t mesh with well, you either moved or got used to being “the weird guy who lives on the corner”.

Now, communities are limited only by the technology present and who we want to interact with. I could be part of a community in Japan, and interact with those people on a daily basis. Video chat such as Skype could allow me to hang out in their living room if we wanted.The hardest part would be the time difference.

However, I believe humans will always choose face to face interaction for things. Even now, if you wish to communicate something important, you do it in person. Our average day to day face to face interactions may be dropping, but I believe it’s because we save those meetings for important things. If we just want to shoot the shit, we send an email, or a text, or a Tweet. As it should be.

Humans have rarely mishandled technology so poorly in the long term that we’ve suffered for it as a race. We’re very good at handling technology poorly in the short term, and causing irreparable harm to portions of our race all at once, but we tend to learn that’s a bad plan. If social media were going to be detrimental to us as a species, I think we’d realize, and stop using it, or at least begin using it in a different way.

Wouldn’t we?

After all, ideas spread far and fast in the Information Age. And you can’t unmake an idea.


~ by Benjamin Kenneally on February 9, 2010.

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