These days, we live in a digital age—you’ve probably noticed.
What many are unaware of, however, is just how significantly technology has permeated our everyday lives. Face-to-face interactions now take place less and less, replaced by virtual interactions via desktop computers and mobile devices. These are technically human interactions—but only up to a certain point.
While none of this may come a surprise, taking a look at specific data sheds light on how these trends have been developing and where they might lead us. TIME and Qualcomm recently conducted a study on attitudes and mass mobility, the TIME Mobility Poll, which surveyed 5,000 people in eight different countries. Regarding the workplace, they found that on average, 12% of people said they have fewer personal relationships with clients and/or co-workers as a result of wireless technology. If you’re a member of the workforce, consider this. How often on a daily basis are you on the computer or phone? How often do you speak to co-workers face-to-face? Most likely, the answers are nearly all day vs. intermittently. Similarly, the study found that 26% of people feel guilty for not responding promptly to work-related messages outside of normal work hours. Here virtual interactions have not only replaced the physical interactions, but in a way, also generated legitimate and somewhat virtual emotions. Outside of the workplace, the TIME Mobility Poll shows that over half of people almost always use their mobile devices during other activities such as attending a party, eating, and watching TV. Our physical lives are enhanced from instant connectivity to the virtual world, and this trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down—“filler” time such as waiting in line, pumping gas, and taking public transportation is now dedicated to staring at one’s phone. According to Flurry, of the apps we spend time using, over 79% are attributed to Games, Entertainment, and Social Networking. Looking at the physical scenery around us and having a full conversation is no longer adequate—our virtual lives have become more interesting. The interactions taking place in the virtual world are increasingly falling under our control as well. CNN recently found that Americans age 18-29 send an average of almost 88 texts per day. TIME’s Mobility Poll similarly discovered that 22% of respondents actually screen nearly all their calls so they can just reply by text or email—mediums that let a person dictate exactly what they want to say, when they want to say it. Following this tendency, the randomness and uncertainty of regular interactions seems to be fading.
What do these trends mean, though? Are we in the beginnings of a transition into a fully virtual world? Will traditionally physical interactions cease to exist? Moving forward, mobile devices and the “Internet of things” (smart capabilities infused into more and more ordinary objects) will continue to alter the way we live our day-to-day lives. How our perception changes as a result of this, with respect to virtual and human interactions, remains to be seen.