Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Loneliness of Technology

I've been tossing these ideas around in my head a lot lately, especially the more I travel and and rely on technology to keep me in touch with my "real life". So my postulaton is that all the technology today -- internets, texting, blackberry, myspace, facebook, online communities, caller ID, dating sites, etc. etc. -- that should lead to greater connectivity is actually more isolating. The more connected we are, the less we actually connect.

I think back to when I had no answering machine in college; then only had an answering machine with a landline that I shared with 5 other people. I met my first TWO boyfriends in SF in 1991-92 (yes, a nerd fucker from way back) using a thing called SF Net where you could chat with people at home and coffeehouses via a 1200 baud modem connection and a Procomm account. Got on the online with a UNIX shell account in '95 using some form of gopher (those commands Sparky wrote out for me!); remember the first use of a buggy browser called Mosiac that became Netscape; and so on. With each advance, the world became smaller and the personal circle bigger.

Back in my younger days (says granny), you'd call up people, make plans, meet up when you planned without calling back 5 times to check in, and that'd be it. You'd actually talk to someone to make plans. Or you'd walk down the street to see if they were at home sitting around. Eventually, we all "progressed" into being able to screen calls, or pick up messages using the answering machine, but I don't think that became a regular occurrance until the mid 90s. Before then, if you missed a call, you tried to guess who might have called but really have no way of knowing so didn't think about it much.

Most of my friends know that I hate the lengthy text message conversation, for to me, it seems to be a way to hold someone at arm's length, to not engage too TOO much (And my thumbs get sore, as they did composing this post almost entirely by Bberry.) I've surely used texting to keep distance with someone. Who hasn't been puzzled by the perceived 'tone' of a text, and asked a friend to help interpret? With the more ways we can send messages now, the less we actually communicate face to face. What we're missing is the ability to gauge and understand a person by their body language, an emotion written clearly on their face, or a catch in their voice: the most basic forms of human interaction are unavailable for interpretation.

We're so connected that if someone's out of touch for a few days or you are getting the high hat, you become painfully aware of it. Nope, no text. Nope, no message. Nope, no email. Yep, I'm out at 2 am, and I know there's been no reply because my damn phone is ALWAYS WITH ME. And you always know you didn't miss a message, because there are 5 different ways for someone to reach you, each finally appearing as a little yellow envelope on your phone signaling a hi. I do think, in retrospect, that I liked it better when I came home to a single blinking light, or a letter in a handmade envelope from a 40 oz bag in my mailbox, or a $50 phone bill because I spent 15 hours talking and laughing with my best friend in San Francisco.

I realize we have put ourselves in this position by getting Blackberries or whatever for work and personal use and, honestly, I do love (and by love, I mean addicted to) the positive things my little square waffle-iron like machine adds to my life. I seriously have a semi-panic attack when the phone goes out. I've always been an information junkie, so having Google Maps at my fingertips in any city in the world to help me find a street, or to text a friend for a quick confirmation, or to get on the web from the subway platform and find some dumb fact, or having a phone that works in every country (but Japan), or having email, or a blog, to keep in touch with people and dump your thoughts out on a page is often pretty durn cool. And sure, you could leave the phone at home, as I'm trying to do sometimes. Should be an easy habit to break, right?

Yet I'm thinking that all this technology leads to greater loneliness simply because we are all more aware of any silence or downtime. The times alone with no instant always-available connections are just that much louder.


Tim said...

In your own unique way, you've given words to similar thoughts I'v had for many a moon. It still bugs the shit out of me when people (or worse friends!) don't bother to respond to emails and the like, making me think that it must be something about me and not them. But you are right on, about how the instant availability of contact with just about anyone, has the capibility to diminish it and cheapen it somehow. Don't let it though, and cherish every connection, and read "Bowling Alone" for more insight on this. Nice post!

Xmastime said...

you're thirstiest when there aint no water in the well.

Anonymous said...

Awww ... I bet you even miss me calling collect all the time .....hahaha .... I do agree with you though!

Neil said...

Maybe feeling lonely is a result of not leaving any comments on my blog.