Connected, but alone?

Physically together, but mentally elsewhere

Armando Duran
Jun 16, 2013 · 7 min read

We live in the age of distraction with our multiple technological devices which in a way “give” us the sense that we are connected to the world, to our friends, to our loved ones and to the people that we share our lives with.

For a few months now, I have been noticing this behavior almost everywhere I go. Groups of friends and families gather to be together for multiple reasons. Yet their minds are elsewhere as most of the people have a device with which they can feel “connected” with other people that are not with them in the present moment.

Technology has always inspired me as to what advancements we can achieve and how technology can make our lives easier. It is almost unstoppable the consumerism that has been built around getting the newest thing that there is.

I am not sure how much we, as intelligent human beings, stop and reflect on what is the impact in our psychology and our consciousness by the technological inventions we ourselves create. Sometimes the only way to make people reflect on something is when things start to go really bad.

The inspiration to write about this has been in my mind for a long time now. Yet, a few things have happened since yesterday that have encouraged me to finally express it in this manner:

Two more guests at a lunch table

Yesterday I stopped by a restaurant to have lunch. When I was going to pay I noticed a table where there was a couple preparing to have lunch and they had already set their laptops on the table. Every time I see this happening I think of the conversation and dialogue that people don’t have because there are more guests in the room, in this case: two laptops that would absorb the attention of both people. And so they are there, but not there!

Why I’m Glad The iPhone Didn’t Exist In The 90s

This is the title of a post I found today by Bernadette Jiwa that completely connected me to this topic as I read:

We sat opposite a young family eating breakfast at a local cafe this morning. Dad ordered, while Mum settled the kids at the table next to us. The two year old boy whined a bit until his Dad came back with the paper. His little sister who was about nine months, chewed on some finger food and repeatedly dropped her sippy cup from the high chair, just for fun.

While they waited for their food Dad read the paper. Mum pulled out her iPhone and began checking. The little guy played on a hand held game. His sister stared around as she babbled and tried to make eye contact. There was none to be had.

This led me to interact a little bit with her as I showed her the picture I took yesterday that I posted on my Pinterest collection called Together, but alone?

In fact all this post also made me watch again the TED talk video by the same title that I will describe next in this post.

TED Talk by Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?

A while ago I found this TED talk that made me ponder more about these dynamics with us and our technological devices. Every time I watch this video, it makes me wonder about where we are going and how is technology affecting us in ways that we are not being aware of.

Texting while in board meetings

Here are some of of the parts that I liked, I am putting in the beginning the minute and second where she says this:

[2:10] I’m still excited by technology, but I believe (and I’m here to make the case) that we are letting it take us to places that we don’t want to go

[2:34] … those little devices in our pockets. Are so psychologically powerful that they not only change what we do. They change who we are.

[3:04] People text or do emails during corporate meetings … people talk to me about the important new skill of making eye contact while you are texting.

[3:34] Parents, text and do emails at breakfast and at dinner while their children complain about not having their parents’ full attention. But then the same children deny each other their full attention.

[4:08] Why does this matter? It matters to me because I think were setting ourselves up for trouble. Trouble certainly and how we relate to each other, but also trouble on how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self reflection. We are getting used to a new way of being alone together. People want to be with each other but also elsewhere connected to all the different places they want to be.

[6:10] An 18-year-old boy who uses texting for almost everything says to me wishfully: “someday, someday but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation”

[7:09] Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and their demanding. And we clean them up with technology, and when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short change ourselves, and over time we seem to forget this.

I remember my excitement about having the ability to ask anything to a virtual assistant like Siri. The part of technology that amazes me when I think of how much power we posses in our hands these days and how much information we can easily get to our advantage.

Then I remember when I started asking silly questions and some others not that silly but trying to push it to the limit of Siri’s ability to answer questions like “how do you feel today?” or “what should I wear?”.

One of questions that gets my interest is: “Who is God?” which normally has different (kind of funny) responses like:

  • My policy is the separation of spirit and silicon
  • I’m really not equipped to answer such questions, Armando
  • That’s a topic for another day, and another assistant
  • It’s all a mystery to me
  • I eschew theological disquisition
  • Humans have religion. I just have silicon

Then I started thinking about the psychological implications that this may represent in our society and how technology changes us in so many ways that we don’t even look back how we were back in the days when there wasn’t any computers or mobile devices all around us.

Going back to Sherry’s talk, this is something that impresses me the most about technological advancements and how we relate to them, but most importantly how we relate to each other and how we may be gradually separating ourselves from finding the meaning of life, the inner walk with ourselves, with God, with creating true and genuine interaction with others that bring real meaning into our lives:

[9:18] For example many people share with me this wish, that someday a more advanced version of Siri, the digital assistant on Apple’s iPhone, will be more like a best friend. Someone who will listen when others won’t. I believe this wish reflects a painful truth that I’ve learned in the past 15 years. That feeling, that no one is listening to me, is very important in our relationships with technology. That’s why it’s so appealing to have a Facebook page or Twitter feed. So many automatic listeners. And the feeling that “no one is listening to me”, makes us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us.

[12:00] We expect more from technology and less from each other.

[12:45] These days, those phones in our pockets are changing our minds and hearts because they offer us three gratifying fantasies:

  1. That we can put our attention whatever we wanted to be
  2. That we will always be heard
  3. That we will never have to be alone

And that third idea that we will never have to be alone, is central to change in our psyches, because the moment that people are alone, even for a few seconds, they become anxious, they panic, they fidget, they reach for a device. Just think of people at a checkout line or at a red light.

In closing and as an invitation to ponder about all this and to make a good reflection about how we can use (or continue to use) technology for the good:

[19:04] Now, we all need need to focus on the many many ways technology can lead us back, to our real lives, our own bodies, our own communities, our own politics, our own planet,they need us.

Let’s talk about how we can use digital technology, the technology of our dreams to make this life the life we can love.

All this certainly gives us a lot of food for thought and hopefully also for action. I could have just included the link to the video from the beginning of this post,but I wanted to mention some important lines, although I think every sentence is important, in hope that the ones who do take the time to read this, may be inclined to comment about it and reflect on where we are going with technology and the human relationship that there is to it and to others.

And finally, here is the TED talk video by Sherry Turkle titled the same as this post: Connected, but alone?

I. M. H. O.

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