Sunday, 20 September 2015

Connection Lost

I see a lot of people sharing memes and comments lately about how phones are dividing us. From humorous depictions of roaming teenagers with smartphones as modern-day zombies, to snarky, passive-aggressive remarks about how antisocial it is to keep your nose stuck in your phone at the dinner table. And I'll say it right now - that's quite true. There's a time for being online, and there's a time to unplug. When you have friends and family within eyeshot, try poking them, rather than your Facebook friends.

But at the same time, I think the demonization of technology has been fairly stereo since the stereo. People have always feared the coppery thin fingers of electrical assimilation. The thing is, advancement comes at a cost, and people sometimes forget that. Think how many people were laid off because of the steam engine? The computer? The auto-mobile? The concessions aren't just vocational, but social. Society had to be adapted around the building of roads, the wiring of homes, and that produces a lot of social anxiety. But TV doesn't rot brains, rock music doesn't summon the devil, video games don't incite violence, and phones don't REALLY disconnect us.

Photographic memories of our lives now given way to cameraphones, virtual post-it notes to remind us of our priorities, time-keepers to guide us through the day. These were all good things before phones replaced them, and they now remain good things. But the purpose of a phone has always remained the same. To call. To connect people. That's why we don't call them mobile calenders. Some people seem to resent phones, seeing them as a barrier to socialization. But my phone lets me talk to people on the other side of the planet - and I frequently do! My phone streams a live feed of information and education through my eyes, and allows me to share how it all makes me feel with friends that I might have drifted apart from years ago otherwise.

And it's not just phones that people are complaining about. We now have this mythical "internet/Facebook addiction", which I'm sure, in some very extreme cases, may be real, but let's be serious; barely, even then. The nature of the online world is such that it doesn't really impede your life in any way. No active work is required to be online 24/7, it's just... there. Like a new sense. We can tweet, socialize, listen to music, know where we are, look up information and even shop with relative ease because these things are all designed to be convenient. To say this is some sort of step backwards is to wrap your brain with the same logic that could easily send us careening back to the horse and cart.

ALL technology is designed around convenience, but this doesn't make it negative or make us weaker. Thanks to the ubiquitous access to information, we are more intelligent as a species than ever before. Better educated, better informed, and with better opportunities. I don't like people who belittle the poor by making snide remarks about how they have smartphones, etc, as that logic doesn't make sense, but I do admit that the reason WHY it doesn't make sense is simply because modern society has a different standard of underprivileged. Thanks to technology I can do things right now that people even a few years ago could only have dreamed about, even if I were homeless and starving. We should be appreciative, not resentful, of everything technology has given us.

Technology changes everything, acting as a conduit for the will of the people and often guiding, sometimes forcefully, the stagnant government to something approaching modernization. Sometimes it feels like we are living in times darker than ever before, but that's only really because technology has given us such awareness of the world that we now KNOW how much suffering is happening out there in order to care about it. And the fact that we care shows how these devices don't have to be our masters, but rather a tool for bringing out the best in us. I won't say that a person isn't poor just because they have clothes, good health, and a Tinder profile. But I will say that they are, in their own way, wealthier than they know. We all are. It's a good thing when the definition of "worst off" changes for the better.

Now, look, I freely admit, it annoys the crap out of me when one of my friends (one in particular)  decides to snub a conversation with me, often in mid-sentence, to text with someone else. It's rude and stupid. Prioritize the person you are PHYSICALLY WITH, at least until you get to the end of your fucking sentence. But at the same time, we all have to adjust our expectations. We have to realize that an invisible conversation with someone else is STILL a conversation. Turning from one friend to listen to another say something would not be considered incredibly rude. Not being able to see the other friend shouldn't REALLY change all that much. It's just a new age, and we have to develop a new etiquette around it.

But fear of change is as central to the human experience as kidneys. Having to adapt to an entirely new concept of socialization is going to take time. I understand why it would seem strange and jarring to be surrounded by people walking around staring into their hands, especially if you didn't grow up with anything remotely like that. But to call it antisocial? Nothing could be further from the truth. Generations past hardly had a notion of what it was to commune with someone across the globe. How many had pen pals in distant, exotic countries? How many could afford to phone their friends to stay in touch every night? How many people over the age of forty can claim to have had half as much of a social experience in their youth as I had in mine?

Now, because of this technology people insist is so socially numbing, my most treasured friends live in places I would certainly have never found myself alone. Even AS a person who isn't very social by nature, I find that technology grants me a window out of my shell that lets me interact with people even more than I normally would. I laugh and chatter and connect with people, my family included, every single day. In many ways I get to be more myself online than I would be inclined to in real life. I *AM* social. Even if, to an outside observer, it looks like I just have my nose in my phone.

Different types of connections do not undermine or cancel each other out. They just add new ways in which we can be all be closer. If you want the attention of someone on their phone, reach out and touch them. Speak their name. No technology will ever rob us of the power and intimacy of those things. Connections aren't lost in the information highway, they're lost because we stop trying to reach out to one another. And if a phone can get in the way of a family - there's something wrong with the family, not the phone.

We should never blame our own short-falls on that which elevates us to the very same heights from which we fear falling. In a generation or two, I doubt anyone will care. It'll be my generation complaining about how cybernetic brain communicators are disconnecting us. :P And quite frankly, I don't like the "music" kids are listening to these days, either.