Technologically-Mediated Human Relationships

A couple of nights ago, I was watching Youtube videos with my 3yr old when she noticed a thumbnail of a video featuring my dad. She instantly yelled, “Pappou, Pappou, I want to see Pappou.” We began to watch the video and within seconds, she began to call directly to her grandfather. It began slowly with “Pappou. Pappou.” But quickly, she became noticeably agitated that dad seemed to be speaking over her and not responding to her voice. She became frantic and began to yell, “Pappou! Pappou! Listen to me Pappou!” Then, she began to cry. For the next 45 minutes, she cried hysterically for her grandfather.


At some point during this, I realized that she had never before simply “watched” a video of her grandfather. Before this, every time that she had seen my dad on screen, it has been through a two-way, interactive medium such as FaceTime or Skype. For kids growing up today, the boundaries between physical and virtual may not be as well-defined.

As I consoled her through this very long moment, the professor in me contemplated how incredibly different it will be for my children to grow up in today’s technology-saturated world, and more in particular, I wondered what this mediated reality will mean for their current and  future human relationships. As parents, educators, administrators, and theorists, we really need to pay attention.

10 thoughts on “Technologically-Mediated Human Relationships

  1. Im I’m so sorry for you loss this year. Your daughter’s heartfelt plea for her grandfather is indeed indicative of the current nature of technology. It also rings with her love for her grandfather. The line between real and not real is forever blurred for our Ss and children.

  2. Alec,

    Your Dad sounds like an amazing person (read your related post) and this highlights the important and meaningful relationships in our lives. Technology provides new ways to live and connect, but also new ways remain visible and remember.

    This is a very insightful post. Thanks for sharing. I am sending extra positive thoughts your way today.


  3. I grew up in the 70s when we wondered if things like video phones would ever be possible. For my mom, who spent most of her days in a single wide trailer with 9 children with curlers in hair, while dad worked, the idea both excited and scared her. She didn’t want others to see what she looked like, but I do remember her longing for adult human contact during the day, and our telephone cord was not long enough for her to be able to chat on the phone while caring for the home and kids. I think about “shut ins” and such and hope that they are video chatting with their 3 year old grand daughters today!

  4. Very powerful, Alec. As a father I can empathize with the moment and the feeling when your child is frustrated and emotional because they don’t understand the reality of the situation. You bring up a very profound point about mediated reality and what this means on future relationships. I’m not sure what the answer is, but it will be interesting to watch its evolution.

  5. This is an intriguing concept to wrestle with, and that much more relevant because you were able to use such a personal example, as painful as it was. I was instantly reminded of a similar, yet less emotional, example in which our Internet was down at our house. (sidebar: unfortunately we are in a semi-rural area and the Internet is less than awesome on good days) My daughters, 9, and 6 were doing some online activities like Starfall or similar and they both said, “Dad the computer isn’t working,” to which I started to say “The Internet is down,” until I caught myself. I thought to myself, “they don’t know that there is a network called the Internet that is required to allow these web based activities to even work!” Now my oldest daughter understands Internet, mostly due to her use on an iPad. Some apps work offline, some don’t.

    I tell that story because I think it fits with the crux of what you are asking, although it is not a human relationship example. We need to be hyper-vigilant and proactive with how we guide our kids through this information saturated world!

    Thanks for posting this, and belated sympathies to you and your family. I’ve followed you on Twitter and gleaned much from you.


  6. I’m so sad and heavy with child, I to cry when you see his pain. : (
    Interestingly, the human mind and soul what they believe is true. My great grandmother was 93 years old when She was first seen during the operation Tv. The announcer in the morning, when it starts to greet the audience, and my great grandmother always welcome him back. She then angry, like Bea, why not get answers to your questions. I think, She of today’s online conversations love.

    Today’s kids, the internet is a broader, expanded 3D reality, as if he would consider out of the room through the window at the garden. The question is, that internet, destroy the children of self, imaginary worlds? Not only convenient for today’s parents if the child is alone too often plays with the color and detail techniques online?
    I think that whatever advanced technology, the human mind will not be able to catch up to the final passing away when a loved family member is missing. can not be replaced artificially.

    I think that whatever advanced technology, the human mind will not be able to catch up to the final passing away when a loved family member is missing. can not be replaced artificially.

  7. Thank you for sharing this piece of life which is both deeply personal, but also deeply profound.

  8. How heartbreaking, especially coming so quickly after his passing. However, (and maybe I was a weird kid), I remember thinking that Mr. Rogers was not a very good listener. He talked all the time and never listened to (or responded to) me. It was more egregious that every day he sang “and you’ll have things you’ll want to talk about…” but never did he respond. I think we’re re-defining, generation by generation, what it means to be connected and interactive. The screen seems to get thinner with every generation.

  9. Hi Alec – I’ve had this with both my young boys too, although thankfully they only cried for a few moments until we distracted them with Angry Birds! In some respects I envy my boys in the world they are growing up in, one that is already so technically advanced (and hopefully will continue to advance too), but I also regret that they will not know or understand the development that has already happened – cassette tapes to CDs and the iPod, VHS video to DVD to online streaming, etc.

    All the best, David

  10. And not just human-to-human relationships. I’m fascinated that technology continues to have a profound impact on our relationships with space/place and time. I read a lot of Soja in the past year. In Thirdspace, he suggests it is essential to keep our relationships and our imagination “creatively open to redefinition and expansion”, and “to resist any attempt to narrow or confine its scope”.

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