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Saturday 08 April 2017

Technology's double-edged sword?

Posted in: Our Communities
By Jay Bennie - 30th January 2017

When steam trains and then cars became a fact of daily life they freed up cities from the filth and disease associated with horse dung and poor diets based on only eating what meat and vegetables could be produced within a few blocks of the consumer. No-one could foresee that cars and diesel engines would become major contributors to the creeping disaster of global warming.

Likewise, everywhere around us the communications revolution is changing everything. The knowledge of the world is a Google click away. But so are misinformation and fake news. Enlightenment and meetings of like minds are everywhere on Facebook. But so are trolls.

This is double-edged sword is evident in many areas of public and private life, from the teenager who can study anything from the accumulated knowledge of mankind but also gets mercilessly bullied into suicide, to the Americans who voted for Donald Trump in the firm and genuinely held belief that Hillary Clinton has personally killed around 40 people during her political career.

Glbti people, and horny gay and bi men in particular, were early adopters of digital technology and the internet. Gradually gay venues and all-embracing gay media became less of a one stop shop for all folks glbti needs.

Steven Oates
“There is less of a need to come together in physical spaces and venues,” says Steven Oates, a seasoned booster of the advantages of a cohesive and functioning sense of glbti community. “It's given us a lot of freedom to connect but it is a double-edged sword.”

“Technology is allowing people to more easily find their own kind,” he says, “but along the way we're not exposed to people from different groups and ideas. For instance,the young are not exposed to the wisdom of older people. It's very easy to find a group you're interested in and forget about things beyond that.”

“This becomes a problem when people or specific groups start to live in isolation and are not feeling like part of a wider community. People get pulled into a certain world and that's it.”

It's deeply ironic. Technology allows communication but also isolation... the ability to connect only to those we choose. “So, says Oates, “there is less exposure to different and perhaps unexpected ideas and experiences of anyone else.”

And it's not just on a personal level. It seems to be happening within sexualities, sexual behaviours, ethnicities, ages, health and HIV status. Lots of specialist groups of like attracting like but with decreasing awareness of other groups, other ideas, other needs.

It's not just in New Zealand of course. It's happening all over the world. People are withdrawing into their own beliefs and mini-worlds, 'echo chambers' they are often disparagingly referred to, where they don't have to interact with people of different views or more complex ideas.

It may well be a significant cause of the differences in time-lines between NZ human rights campaigns past and present. “Fracturing and lost togetherness mean we're less likely to work together on common or specific issues,” Oates believes. The critical mass of united and interconnected glbti sub-communities that was quickly and largely effectively assembled in the 1980s for homosexual law reform, and in the '90s for human rights for glbti people doesn't seem to have formed up behind issues facing us in more recent, internet-connected times.

It seems like, and is, decades since transgender people started actively highlighting issues that plagued their lives, but nothing much has actually changed. How long have some in our midst been trying to get more uniform and effective sexuality education into the education system, or properly effective and comprehensive action on school bullying of glbti kids?

“People have become drawn into their own camps, less noticed by other glbti groups,” Oates says. “Part of the problem is no longer having common venues. Back in the day we had multiple bars and nightclubs with hundreds if not thousands of people of all glbti kinds coming together. Multiple bars and people moved between them, they came together, they couldn't ignore each other. Has Grindr become its own kind of nightclub?” he muses.

“People want their technologies. However, it would be nice to find a balance where community and a sense of commonality are still important. The pendulum has swung so far people are communicating through technology and not in person. How do we find a middle ground? It's up to the new generations who've never been without technology to find a way. Unfortunately, they don't know what they are missing.”

Oates, in association with, has created an Auckland Pride Festival event to look at this issue. Held at Ika Seafood Bar and Grill on Wednesday 22 February, 'Outspoken' will centre on a panel discussion between people with a deep knowledge of glbti history, social media and community.

“It is to get people talking about how people have changed To hear their points of view. To have young people exposed to what this community was like before the internet arrived,” says Oates.

Outspoken – The Digital Rainbow

Ika Seafood Bar and Grill, Eden Terrace, Auckland

Wednesday 22 February from 7pm

Entry: Koha

Jay Bennie - 30th January 2017

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