Disconnected: The Tech That Divides Us

The family is five strong. They’ve come out together tonight to eat out. Two parents with their teenagers in tow. While waiters run the gauntlet of service, lovers stare into each other’s eyes, friends laugh, knives clink on porcelain, but in the general hubbub of dinner there is a patch of silence.

Three teenagers are sitting opposite their parents, texting.

As my heart breaks for the lack of relationship between these most intimately connected people, I fish for ways to understand this and it’s like bobbing for piranhas, painfully easy.

We are being conditioned. I have seen it. People unthinkingly answer the beep of their phones like an infant in distress. It’s become a Pavlovian reflex. I’ve had people take their phone out and reply to emails in the middle of a conversation, completely unaware of what they’re doing. We can’t get away from our ever-present connectivity. People text in meetings; at the desk; while reading, drinking coffee, shopping, making breakfast, or having dinner with family. It’s the most subversive of diseases because we never realise what is happening. We are slaves to our devices. At least we’re connecting, aren’t we?

Aren’t we?

Is there truly no difference between a hug and a digital poke? See, we’ve started trading deep connection with a few people for contact with 2000 Facebook friends. We’re inundated in contact, and we can’t keep up.

It’s understandable, really. Electronic communication is safe. You don’t have to invest yourself, you can tailor your responses. It feels like you’re connecting with someone. It’s also easy as hell. But can we be healthy on this diet of fast-food interaction?

Relationships are hard work. They require that you work at finding common ground with another person in a room filled with two people’s baggage. It takes time. It takes patience. It sometimes even leaves marks when the pain has faded. But is this not part of the human condition? Are we becoming existentially skewed?

Sal9000 has married his sweatheart, Nico Nico Douga. She’s everything he’s ever wanted in a woman. She defers to him; changes her appearance to suit his preferences; her personality has even changed to better suit his. She’s also contained on a memory card for a NintendoDS game called Love Plus.

Love Plus is a Japanese sensation. It’s a next level Tamagotchi, teaching guys everywhere that they’re the most important person in the world; that it’s better to have a bump-free relationship with a clever AI program than to slog it out with someone in the real world. Everybody should change to suit us anyway, shouldn’t they?

Technology is dividing us by offering us contact without boundaries. Contact we’ve never had before. Whether it’s the multitudes clamouring for our attention or the inward turn toward digitally encouraged narcissism, we are losing touch with what it means to connect with others. It’s even making us lose contact with ourselves.

I don’t fear for myself. I fear for the younger generation which is growing up knowing nothing else. I ache for the children at the dinner table, sitting so close to something immensely beautiful and fulfilling, and choosing something else. We are herd animals. It is not good for man to be alone, but we are growing more and more distant from the real, untruncated contact that has characterised humanity for as long as it has existed.

Now we are defined by a list of likes and dislike on a web page. Our identities were never as easy to define as that, were they? It’s personality through consumption, and it scares the hell out of me.

People will always disappoint us. Our loved ones will hurt us. Relationships will always be hard. If we keep choosing the easy path, how will we ever realise that all of this is worth it? If we don’t ever have to put the effort in, how will we know how much it pays off? How will we know love? For we are all the sum of our contradictions and love encompasses even that.

Sometimes the tar road is necessary and good, but if we never stray from its simplicity we won’t know the wonder of the forest path, of cresting a mountain and seeing the unspoilt world stretched out before us.

And us humans, we were built for wonder.

I’d like to mention this article for helping give form to the nebulousness of my thoughts:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html?_r=4&pagewanted=1

Read it. It makes some very good points.

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