We've Been Using Media to Escape Human Interaction for Centuries

Illustration for article titled Weve Been Using Media to Escape Human Interaction for Centuries

It’s easy to blame your displeasure with contemporary behaviour on the technology in our hands. But, really, humans have been busy using whatever they can to ignore you for centuries.

Randall Munroe predicts the inevitable in today’s XKCD: “2060: The gregarious superintelligent AI, happily talking its way out of a box, is fast becoming a relic of the past. Today’s quantum hyper-beings are too busy with their internal multiverse sims to even notice that they’re in boxes at all!”


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The observation that people use technology to avoid human interaction is true, but in dismissing is as “people have always done that” it misses the differences with the technology used today than other historical social-interaction avoiders. Primarily the missing piece is how ubiquitous the technology being used to ignore human interaction is, how much time is spent using the tech, and the nature of the tech (eg. whether it’s passive or (inter)active). The # of people walking around reading books - even at it’s mass market paperback reading peak - was never more than a tiny fraction of the number of people walking around today with their face glued to a screen. Also, there are always exceptions but not too many people tried to read books while driving, crossing the street, getting checked out at the supermarket, or while sitting with friends at dinner - all things I see people do regularly while using a phone. IMO the ubiquity of smart phones and the fact that they actively prod you to look at and interact with them (messages, email, social media updates) makes them significantly different than books or any of the other techs people have used historically.