Internet chat rooms, short message service, e-mails—these are only some common ways to communicate with friends and acquaintances nowadays. Back in the 19th century, the time of my great grandmother, these means were not available, and communication was limited to telephones, letters, telegrams and face-to-face meeting. Indeed, a big change has quality of human relationship among people, making the modern generation gain more acquaintances than friends, which is the total reverse for those who lived in the past century.
When Boy Meets Girl
Back in the 19th century, teenagers usually get a chance to meet the other gender in schools, parties, restaurants, and other public places. When a boy spots on a girl he likes, he usually attempts to start a conversation by talking about the weather, asking for direction, or directly introducing himself. Most of the time, boys do not even go straight to the girl, but looks for someone who could make proper introduction, such as a common friend or a relative. In some isolated cases, men secretly wrote anonymous letters for the woman to read.
However, like a piece of electronic device, these means have become outdated. Although some acquaintances are still established at the school canteen, at restaurants and bars, or at parties, online dating has become more popular than the usual ways. Many people nowadays meet new friends online, while some even end up marrying people they met from Internet chat rooms.
The Modern Means of Socialization
The Internet has changed the ways people socialize. Its constant and growing use makes it a “potentially strong agent of socialization” (Lee & Conroy 2). In the older days, the common concept of socialization is to be physically present in other people’s company. People associated socialization with attending parties, joining organizations, dating, or simply chatting with friends over lunch or snacks. However, with the use of the Internet nowadays, socialization is not limited anymore to physical and social interaction. Also, there are no limits as to how many people one can talk to each time. Thus, the nature and meaning of socialization has changed entirely with the change in the means of communication. Nowadays, communicating simultaneously with different people at a given time and at a wider scope has become possible.
Socialization in the modern context can thus occur even without leaving one’s room or house. The Internet has allowed people to socialize even without meeting physically face to face. Instead of setting a common time and place to meet, and taking time to prepare physically, people just need to connect to the Internet to see each other online with the use of web cameras and social networking sites such as Friendster, Facebook, YM, IM, Skype or the likes. These networking sites allow the exchange of messages through live chat and e-mails, and provide opportunity for people to view each other’s pictures or videos. This way, socialization or the act of being “responsible contributing members of community and society” (Keane 1997) has truly taken different forms; and as these means change, certain aspects relating to the quality of relationship established have likewise changed.
With the use of the Internet and other high-tech devices, communication has become more accessible and affordable. However, along with the advantages they bring, the use of technology has affected the ways people socialize and maintain relationships. In particular, the quality of human relationship has changed with the modern transformations.
Quality of Human Relations
The recent changes in the means of socialization have significantly reduced the quality of human relations among people. People in the older days shared deeper friendships than they do now. The story of the Dodge Brothers (Hyde 2005) illustrates how men of the past century gave importance to friendship. Indeed, it is not too often that we hear stories like those of Sergey Brin and Larry Paige in the contemporary time. Instead, what we see around us are people who make too many acquaintances but very few friends. The case of Kurt Cobain ideally illustrates how friendships in the modern times were not enough to secure a person’s emotions.
Analyzing how human relations have been affected by the changes in the way people socialize, one may determine the relevance of technology to the decrease in the quality of human relations. Taking from the above example, although the use of the Internet has allowed people to establish acquaintances easily, the chats and exchange of messages do not necessarily help them to have qualitative communication. Taking into consideration the fact that in online communication, the communicators do not see each other eye-to-eye, one can sense the element of pretense each can employ while communicating. For instance, a less than attractive guy who wishes to have friends in the chat room could pretend to be someone else and show a different picture of his to his online friends. In doing so, the value of the relationship he tries to establish is diminished because of deceit. Likewise, even though one tells the truth, chances are, language barriers can cause some misinterpretations which may be avoided when communicating face-to-face.
Considering this, the quality of friendship among online friends is less compared to those who have spent time together. Since online dating and chat have become common nowadays even among well-established friendship, technology still affects the quality of relationship shared by people. On a different note, the problem brought about by technology was not what made Kurt Cobain commit suicide. Therefore, something else must be answerable for such phenomenon.
When people meet up to socialize, they usually have goals established prior to the meeting or in other words, vested interest. In the 19th century, with the rise of economy two decades after the war, people held acquaintances for socio-political and economic purposes. Parties and meetings were held to allow socialization among people of similar statuses. These gatherings helped people do business with each other, or find recreation after a day’s work. In contrast, people who gather in parties or bars nowadays seem to do things merely for fun, without bearing a worthwhile purpose in mind, such as establishing business contacts. Of course there are exceptions to the rule but generally, as depicted on television series, people frequent bars in order to have fun, get drunk, and sometimes have casual sex with a stranger.
Aside from the difference in purpose, it can be noted that in the 19th century, those who frequented bars were usually men, while these days, both genders meet up at the same venue. This implies that along with the changes in the means of socialization, people’s preferences have changed throughout time. The popularity of the opera and theater houses in the late 19th century suggests people’s preference to see concerts and live theater more than to drink alcohol and listen to hard rock music all night. Considering this, one can see the change in interest and purpose for socialization as one of the factors that led to the change in people’s ways of socialization.
Applying this in the situation of Cobain, one can say that the purpose by which he maintains and meets acquaintances may have contributed to the singer’s dilemma. Being a well-known singer and composer, Cobain must have met acquaintances who had vested interest prior to establishing friendship with him. Given such situation, it is difficult to establish close friendship and trust those people, leading him to feel alone and neglected. In addition, the fact that Cobain was diagnosed with drug addiction clearly explains that vested interest was what motivated those who established closeness with him.
Language in Socialization
Language plays an important part in socialization as it does in communication. Apart from devices mentioned, language is a major means people use to establish or deepen friendships. In the Bible, language proved to be the main factor in promulgating the teachings of Christ among different nations. Without language, people cannot establish or connect with each other. As such, the quality of language one uses to communicate should be given importance. In the past century, we can note that the use of figurative language was at work in building relationships between famous couples such as Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, and Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelly. Particularly, language played an important part in the exchange of letters between the Brownings and the Shellys for they found it difficult to meet in secrecy.
In contrast to the beautiful language that people used in the 19th century, and that united famous literary couples, the language of socialization in the modern times has also changed a lot. Basically, the modern people favor simplistic language, and often resorted to abbreviations when chatting online. For example, when asking about identity, one simply types, ASL to mean age-sex-location. While chatting, abbreviations are also commonly used, such as lol, brb, gtg, tc, etc. Although the impact of these abbreviations to the way people communicate has not been found, it clearly presents differences from the language used in the earlier times, the language that pulled hearts together.
Tracing the changes in the ways people socialize from the late 19th century to the present, one can note three important issues relating to the devices, the intention of the people, and the language. The changes in these three factors delineate the disparity in the ways of socialization between the past and present people. While it is difficult to judge whether one is better than the other, present relationships shared in our times would determine whether the present ways we follow are advantageous or not.
Hyde, Charles. “The Dodge Brothers: The Men, the Motor Cars, and the Legacy.” Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005.
Keane, Sandy Keane. “Questioning Socialization.” 1997. Home Education News, 89. 12 July 2009 <http://mypage.direct.ca/s/skeane/socializ.html>.
Lee, Christina & Conroy, Denise. “The Internet: A Consumer Socialization Agent for Teenagers.” N.d. 12 July 2009 <http://smib.vuw.ac.nz:8081/WWW/ANZMAC2003/papers/OL05_leec.pdf>.