Altstadt: Learning to respect the power of communication technology


Jacob Altstadt, Columnist

At the risk of sounding like a middle-aged man who still thinks pen and paper is the best form of communication, I’d like to state something that I believe the vast majority of my generation either doesn’t realize or ignores: Communication technology — texting, social media, etc. — is extremely powerful and must be dealt with carefully and cautiously.

Now, I would not be surprised if readers react with disdain, if they think I’m hopping on my high horse to tell them that this popular invention is actually the doom of mankind.

But I’m not condemning modern technology. The mere fact that I can watch Netflix, stop to take a quick Snapchat, and then return to my show — all from the comfort of my own toilet — is nothing short of remarkable. The advancements mankind has made in the last decade, let alone the last year, are oftentimes unbelievable. However, in the course of observing all this in wonderment, I’ve noticed the disturbing trend mentioned above: We don’t understand nor respect the amount of power that comes with communicating through technology.

Information is being passed at such a rapid rate that we oftentimes don’t stop to check the credibility of it. I fear that people don’t stop and check the factual correctness of the information they receive. Instead, they believe everything they read, hear or see. Because communication platforms can deliver information quickly and unchecked, consumers fail to fact-check these sources. I can’t tell you how many times my Twitter feed has filled with reports that Justin Bieber or some other hated celebrity has died, only for those same tweeters to realize they were duped by what they thought was a veritable source. Therein lies the problem: We are constantly moving too quickly to bother to verify our facts, both on social media and any other platform delivering information.

We think we can post incorrect claims and “news” because of the figurative mask technology allows us to hide behind. People and organizations can essentially say whatever they want, and the majority of people will believe them without consequence. This is the root of the problem that caused me to delete Yik Yak from my phone. Granted, Yik Yak is an extreme case, but its anonymity is ridiculous, as a Daily columnist explored last year. When technology adds a screen between users and consumers, it removes a huge degree of accountability and clouds the truth of everyday conversations.

When using technology, the face-to-face interaction that is lost compromises the communication’s legitimacy. When communicating with another person via texting or social media, the reader — not the original source — gives voice to the text, and the words lose their authenticity. The communication is not person-to-person, but rather person-to-screen-to-person, where things are easily lost in translation. This isn’t an authentic interaction — the source can easily skew what is being said. Those of you who have ever tried to text with sarcasm know exactly what I’m talking about.

Furthermore, communication is less legitimate when texting and social media induce a need for information at high speeds and in bite-sized portions. There exist very few pieces of information in this world that can be condensed and cropped, yet still maintain their integrity. They cannot be accurately confined to 140 characters. When news sources take conflicts and chop them into cute, catchy headlines and tweets, we become desensitized to the actual meaning behind the words.

As dangerous as technology can be, we should not eliminate technology from our lives. Clearly, the exchange rate of information in modern day is absolutely incredible and has led to some fantastic breakthroughs in all walks of life. But we must remember to use caution when utilizing the powerful communication tool that is modern technology. As Uncle Ben says to Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Jacob Altstadt is a McCormick sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].