Are We Disconnected Because Of Technology?

Originally published at on November 6, 2015.

Technology is a great way to make life easier and better for everyone. But when it takes precedence over everything else is when human connections start to go haywire.

I like Cafe Coffee Day, not for its coffee, but for its tagline “Anything can happen over a coffee”.

Basically meaning, a cup of coffee coupled with a spoonful of interesting conversation can lead anywhere. Good thought. Would look good on walls, billboards and coffee mugs. But that’s it. For people today it’s just an interesting nugget of passing wisdom. Something they would like to tweet about, but never apply in their own lives.

The other day I went to a restaurant with a couple of friends. After talking about pretty girls, slick gadgets, action movies and funny books for a while, I found my self slowly getting bored, and my attention drifting to other tables.

What I noticed bored me even more.

People in groups were locked inside their smartphone screens, unaware of the world around them.

I noticed a family of four members knowing or unknowingly ignoring each other’s presence. Two boys playing online games, father presumably making a client call and mother clearly lost at the dining table and consumed by her Facebook feed. The sight wasn’t any different when I wandered my eyes to other tables.

It appeared as if people were drooling more over their phones than the food served at their tables.

It is known that people spend an average of 8 hours 41 minutes on electronic devices. Which means for more than 8 hours we’re disconnected from the world around us. Not surprising that we always see people gawking into their phones at bus-stands, cabs, queues and cafes, missing out on every opportunity to meet, bond and connect with other people.

Are We Afraid of Loneliness?

I was walking to my office when the traffic signal turned red and displayed a minute of waiting time. It wasn’t even five seconds and I noticed people reaching out for their phones to pass their time.

This has become a habit now. People can’t sit or stand alone just by themselves even for a minute. We want that quick escape from loneliness, and texting a friend at that moment seems like a wise option. Our phones have become our saviors.

But think about it. Why do we hate such idle moments? Is it because we hate our own company?

Escaping that Awkward Pause

We all hate awkward pauses and will do anything to avoid them.

We’ll hum a tune, ask a random question or go for the most simple escape: a phone.

We dive into a pool of texts, emoticons, hashtags and tweets every time we find ourselves stuck in the middle of an awkward patch of silence. We look for our dose of entertainment, conversation and connection on our 5-inch screens, instead of letting the silence present its own opportunity to engage, interact and connect in real life.

There’s nothing wrong in being silent. It’s our inner drive to perform and impress in public that makes the silence unbearable. This awkwardness is experienced a lot, for instance, when we’re stuck with some strangers in an elevator. Or, when our dad’s friends come over for dinner and we’re supposed to act all civilized, educated and smart.

In such times, we often get stuck in pits of silence, unable to lead the conversation anywhere. But, instead of letting the silence simply be, we fill the awkward gap by using our phone and withdrawing ourselves from reality.

A wonderful opportunity to engage, in essence, is wasted by our urge to escape silence.

What the F*ck is HBD?

There is no denying that SMS apps such as WhatsApp and Hike keep us connected with our closed ones regardless of which part of the world they live in. But on the flip side, we’ve become prone to a common SMS syndrome: The SMS Lingo

To some extent, it’s okay to say “Hi, hw r u doin” to friend out of comfort or laziness. That’s understandable.

But, when you wish a close friend staying three blocks away on his birthday by posting “HBD” on his Facebook timeline, it seriously tells us something about the digital age.

One, we’ve forgotten the warmth of a real birthday wish. Two, we didn’t feel guilty about it all.

Facebook Friends: 1000 | True Friends: 0

I might be exaggerating a little bit here. But you get the point.

It appears like we’re more interested in making Facebook friends, than making friends in real life. This is the problem with staying connected 24/7. All we care about is our image on social media — what our friends think of us, how many friends we have and how many likes we get for the posts we share.

This relentless obsession might win us friends on the web but will only leave us with strangers in real life.

Don’t Be An Alien

We’re becoming a planet populated with disconnected souls, don’t you think? We don’t know who lives in the house next door. We don’t know the dreams and desires of a colleague we see every day. Heck, we don’t know if our own parents are doing fine.

Image source: SSN

If you’ve watched the film Her, you probably know what I am talking about. The movie depicts the alienation caused by the advancement of technology. It showed a world where people are always connected to their phones, constantly talking to their operating systems. No one in the film seemed interested in having real conversations with real people.

The world depicted in the movie sure seems like a possible future for us.

Talk More, Tweet Less

Most elderly folks will blame technology for causing the emotional discord that we see in the world today. This is because they’re part of a generation that has seen people share experiences and bond emotionally without the intrusion of technology.

But truth be told, it’s not the technology at fault here, but we, the users of technology.

We make the choice of texting a friend while sharing a candle light dinner with our spouse. We make the choice of sending a birthday wish on a Facebook timeline instead of calling up or meeting the person in real life.

These decisions are not encouraged by technology. These are the choices that we make.

Disconnect to Connect

The solution to this is simple: we must disconnect.

By disconnecting I don’t mean to say you must switch off your mobile phone for the whole day, but just keep it away when you’re with someone else. The person who you’re talking to is sharing something and providing an opportunity to connect. Picking up your phone and texting someone else at that time is not only rude but shows a serious lack of empathy.

Why would you ignore a moment of bonding like that?

When we connect with another person in real life, we also connect to our own selves better. We relate to their stories and in effect are able to tap into our own. This kind of connection cannot happen online.

The extent in which technological advancements are being made, it’s important that we don’t forget our roots in the process: that we are human beings who grow with with real connections, and technology in that sense should only be used to aid the process, not override it.

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