Before I get into today's subject, I would like to extend an apology to my readers for my unusually long absence. I know I do not post that frequently to begin with, and I knew it had been a great deal of time since I last posted here, but the surprise to me has been that my last posting was about a month-and-a-half ago. There have been a number of things that have kept me occupied, mostly work on my house and dealing with a poison something-or-other rash which is finally beginning to subside. I am sorry for the delay.
Several weeks ago, I went to see a film called Disconnect. The film deals with how technology has pervaded our lives to the point of altering, running, and even ruining our lives. (For me, personally, I also saw an unspoken, although not fully fleshed-out, commentary on how we have willfully let this happen.) The film explores several story lines at once (similar to 'Crash', 'Sin City', and 'Pulp Fiction'), in which we see families, a reporter, and a young student dealing with the ready availability of technology and suffering the consequences of that same technology.
One family has only that they are blood-related and live under the same roof as its connections. Another family has a father as the lone parent of a son who, behind his back, is engaging in cyberbullying. His cyberbullying is that of the son of the first family. The reporter, in the sole interest of advancing her career, pursues a story with someone in a private sex chat room, and becoming involved with her subject.
The common denominator is that these characters' connections are shallow, hurtful, false, debasing, destructive, and unfulfilling.
This has crossed my mind before, but the film got me thinking again about society in general and our own socio-self-perception, if you will, in the light of technology as a means of connection. Before all of this particular kind of technological advancement took place, I remember our means of connecting with one another were face-to-face conversations, letters and cards, and phone calls. Prior to the telephone, the list would remain at three, with telegraphs in place of telephones. Prior to telegraphs, the list would be down to two, with face-to-face conversations and letters. Prior to mail service within a town or between neighboring towns and the appearance of the Pony Express, the list would be down to one...face-to-face.
Don't get me wrong, my point here is not to say all technology is horrible and we need to abandon all of it. To the contrary, the fact that I can look up information about a country half way around the world from me or that someone half a world away from me can read this is awesome, truly a feat of wonder. My point is many of us have used this same technology as a sorry substitute of connection, a kind of relational aspartame.
While there are many good uses of this technology, I wonder how many families only have their bloodline and residence as what connects them...how many have used it for their advantage at the expense of others...how many have used it to exploit or take advantage of someone else, etc. What about those who are not from broken families or who don't necessarily have fractured relationships? They, too, can fall into the trap, more like the illusion, of connection where there isn't really one.
It may seem as though I am mincing words here when talking about "connected" and "linked", especially since both words have the other as one of its synonyms. Stay with me on this and I will try and make my distinction as clearly as possible.
For the purpose of this exposition, the word "connected" refers to interpersonal connections between and among individuals. Examples of this would be two friends or a group of friends, a family and all of its relatives, co-workers, and groups. The words "related" and "relational" would be at the top of the list of synonyms here. The word "linked" refers to the manner in which individuals or groups are joined together. Examples here would be the Internet, social media, chat rooms, E-mail, and blogs. Synonyms here would include "technology" or any of the words that I used as examples.
I have used many of the technologies mentioned here, but they have not become my only or primary means of staying connected with friends, save for those who live a great distance away. For many of us, the fact that we can link with someone has replaced the connection with someone we have, rather than it is merely one means of expressing or living out the connection you have with someone. We believe that we are connected because we send an E-mail to someone, text chat or video chat with someone or a group of persons. Isn't that connected? Again, at running the risk of drawing too wide of a distinction, it is connected, but it really is more linked. You are linked with someone through technology.
And yet, that means of linkage has taken the place of the air you and someone else breathe together when face-to-face. It is the emotionless membrane that does not allow, aside perhaps from video chatting, the nuances of looks and body language as a secondary means of communication. Yes, some of us are more sociable or less sociable than others, but interpersonal connection is hard-wired in all of us. When talking becomes "chatting" online far too regularly, when the idea of go out and play becomes go out to buy technology in order to play indoors, and when cursive writing is beginning to no longer be taught in schools because it is becoming "obsolete", we have redesigned and redefined what society it...what humanity is.
Connected is a state of being, the "are" of us. Linked is a means to keep in touch, a "how" of us. We must be careful, very careful, indeed, to not allow the "how" of us from becoming the "are" of us. We are well along that path now...
...and we may not notice until it is too late.