The Isolated – Are you one?

Not sure if you have read this article in the Guardian.

It’s a new article based on and old statement that’s been floating around for a while. I imagine it’s resurfaced due to the book ‘Alone Together’ hitting the UK shelves soon. Either that or there is little new comment to report on.

In some ways for those that use Facebook only, the general thrust of the article rings true. The social web has evolved way beyond what the mainstream public use though.  The potential is only limited by our imagination. If the person stood at the bus stop is forever head down checking their Facebook wall, then maybe they are only comfortable talking to people online and are not normally that sociable.  Or perhaps they are connected to thousands and just on the way to meet a chunk of them. Just because they are not talking to the person stood next to them doesn’t mean they are not being sociable. Social interaction online is still social interaction.

@Sizemore and @GiaGia

If you are not at all empathic then I can see how using technology to communicate with another human being may seem difficult and strange. This is not the fault of technology. It is down to us to listen more, to extract meaning from the information we are given. To become better readers of others. We have mastered very well indeed how to communicate by telephone. Even though we have no access to facial expression, eye accessing cues and body language. It’s still early days for all of these new tools and once the initial explosion is over and the dust settles, we will see new and amazing ways to connect.

Location based applications using geotagging, particularly those on Mobile devices are certainly bridging the gaps between the online spaces and what the non-users of these channels are calling ‘Real Life‘.

I can say from my own experience that my uses of these tools are often a talking point with those stood around me. It’s a fascinating new world. I enjoy sharing it with those that still think this is all digital witchcraft. You only have to show a couple of relevant uses for people to suddenly ‘get it’.

You can’t just dip into these channels and understand the interactions that are going on. You need to get involved or you risk sounding like every other lazy pundit that doesn’t ‘get it’ as they state.. “I don’t want to know what you are having for breakfast!”

@Whatleydude at Tuttle

Those regurgitating this particular meme are probably not that interested in humanity anyway. It’s like walking into a public gathering and shouting “What are you all talking about and how is this relevant to me?!!”

I certainly talk to and meet more people IRL (in real life) now that I’m using these tools because I’m a person that likes to create new interactions anyway. It may be that I leave my village desk for a conference, a ‘geek meet’, to grab a quick coffee with an new online connection, or some social experiment where I am purposely connecting with people in the real and virtual sense using these tools. i.e

Some individuals are sociable and some are not. I’d hazard a bet there are more people experiencing new interactions with the social web that there are sociable types becoming ‘isolated’ like the article suggests. Huge swathes of socially impoverished disconnected people now have a voice and it is down to us to listen and connect.

The call for some kind of ‘Netequette’ sounds suspiciously like someone asking for more ‘rules and regulation’. After new forms of back channel communication and information sharing have spurned organisations like Wikileaks, I don’t have to make too large a tin foil hat to see a social technology backlash would be nurtured by some other ‘well connected’ members of society. After all, the person on the street with a mobile device is now more connected than ever before. With more information at their fingertips than you average i.p blocked government office.


I totally agree with peoples growing inability to digest large complex amounts of information. Although can only really speak from my own experience. I seem to be buying more books but reading less larger works. On the whole I am reading more though. I use the Read Later bookmark tool to send articles I don’t feel I have time to read (mainly when I don’t feel like I want to sit at the computer) and that article gets synced to an app called Instapaper allowing me to read the article on my other more mobile devices like my phone, ipad etc. That person you see at the bus stop staring at his phone or iPad may be me reading the Guardian or some other online publication. Would I be less isolated hidden behind a broadsheet newspaper?

These new ways of communicating and sharing information are not going away. They will however become more refined as we also find new ways of managing our time. No doubt as we see greater adoption, those in the heart of this ‘backlash’ will quieten down as they begin to find these tools ‘more useful’.

@DebbieDavies at @Geeknbury

i’m @Documentally on twitter


  1. says

    Brilliant, Christian!

    This in particular really sums it up for me:

    “Those regurgitating this particular meme are probably not that interested in humanity anyway. It’s like walking into a public gathering and shouting “What are you all talking about and how is this relevant to me?!!””

    Can I have your permission to quote this endlessly until everyone that knows me is totally sick of it? 😉

  2. David Pitkin says

    Hi, I am interested to hear what you think about the struggles that South Korea has in this area. I think that the Frontline Digital Nation documentary made an attempt to show some signs of caution but I agree that it is far from an easy subject to predict. Twenty Five minutes in is really amazing to watch.

    • says

      Hi David, I just watched the entire film..
      thanks for linking it. It tied together quite a few studies I had seen. This is a massive and complex subject and in may ways I could relate to the focusing, multitasking and time management aspects raised. I know little of how we might evolve as a species. I do think it is important that we can take a step back once in a while to see where our digital endeavors are taking us. Let us use these tools with care and modoration as we find our way. They can build wonderful things. As well as chop our thumbs off if we are not careful. :)

  3. says

    I read your article several times, I read the associated article several times and I find it interesting to note that your articles photographs are actually telling more of the story than your own article. Though to know this is to know where you were or what you were doing at the time. For those reading this comment who dont understand , Christian was not simply ‘Documenting’ those moments but those moments were part of larger social expressions caused by the online conversations. If only we could see the scene behind the camera as it was snapping. But I digress.

    The suggestion that we are awash with information unable to swim in now due to the deluge of the then is an argument oft repeated and rarely justified. Can you imagine how 14th century socialites must have felt about the growth of books, education and travelling tutors the ‘concern’ that people being educated and taught stuff would result in people less able to handle life or responsibilities.

    However the Guardian might do well to note that its own views have clearly progressed from 2009 when it opined that Reading a Book was best done Alone ( thank god ) and more interesting is that in that particular article they felt social media was connecting us

    “and of course that’s what social networks do: connect us, ”

    I find that people have been conditioned to view strangers as dangerous , to accept that people dont want to be interrupted or talked to or share an idea so much so that they go home , close their curtains, lock their doors and sit alone listening to news about muggings, crime and so on. Although that in itself may be a terrible stereo type ( for which I can only highlight a few personal examples ) I think the greater question for me has to be , why are the media and various educational establishments so interested in the fact they are are now sharing and communicating more in the last decade than we have in the last century ?

    Speaking of communication … I dont think we can leave a Seesmic quote any more !

    Cheers for the thoughts sir.

  4. Danbruka says

    Interesting piece.
    I myself am quite a sociable person. Although living in a foreign country at first had me isolated from my ‘friend scene’, the internet and social websites in particular gave me a taste of a larger circle of friends. All be it not in ‘real life’. And For me I had the disadvantage of not being able to meet these new friends in person as the majority were over in the states. Twitter has only recently caught on here (inland Brazil) and anyway I can’t see myself meeting up with people locally through Facebook or twitter like I probably would do back in the uk.
    It’s been a couple of years now since I first tried out seesmic and found a place in the online world, I kinda lost contact with most of my seismic friends by not going online so much due to an irritatingly slow connection via radio on my farm, having no phone line can be a bit of a downer with high net charges.
    As a musician and composer, I use an iPad in a live set up bouncing strange and psychedelic sounds around the studio walls, whilst I bash away on a set of drums..
    It is true I have my face stuck in a pod or a pad more and more and my wife at first felt left out and I should think quite jealous, but as I use my portable device as a music producing tool I have an excuse. The app world is an amazing array of untapped recourses by the ones that ‘don’t get it’ .
    We need to embrace technology, not fight it, and like Christian says, when the shit hits the fan and as the mist begins to clear; they will understand the meaning of all this..

  5. David Pitkin says

    Hi Christian, I very much agree with you, we live in such an amazing time to have such problems. Two recent books that I have read about this challenge that made me think are: Future Minds and Hamlet’s Blackberry. I was turned on to them first by Richard Watson’s RSA talk [1] and he pointed me to William Powers [2]. They are both an interesting history lesson and a look at how our brains might be working.

    I too hope we can advance the dialog beyond a hysterical “Digital Backlash” [3].


  6. Shava Nerad says

    The idea of “social” has, historically, been defined by the brash, linear, often self-involved extrovert – who will gladly over run introvert conversation. For all the lack of civility in the wide open net, being “together alone” actually can give the introverted their first decent cut at an equal voice in conversations, without the same cost of recharging quietly after engaging in face-time socialization. I love people, and I never would be a hermit! But I get to contribute more because of the mediation of the net.


  1. […] life, too. The things that happen online still happen, the voices you hear online are still voices. As Christian Payne (known online as Documentally) puts it in his excellent response to the Guardian …: “social interaction online is still social […]