Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Disconnectivity

It seems I'm trying much harder to feel connected these days.

Over the last couple of months, I've attempted to consolidate my entire web presence under one roof, so to speak. Hence the links to my Facebook and Twitter accounts, over there in the upper-right corner of this very page, the elimination at least one of my e-mail addresses, the vetting of my Firefox bookmarks to leave only those websites I'm interested in reading on a daily basis, and a concerted effort to develop a personal strategy for using each of these communications tools.

That strategy? Right now, I use my Twitter account to keep my freelance clients, my fellow dads and my community-involvement groups appraised of where I am and what I'm doing, just in case someone needs to reach me. My Facebook presence is intended for friends near and far, to keep those who are interested up-to-date on my thoughts and adventures. And Extemporalia is supposed to be a bit more philosophical, with theoretically longer pieces describing something I think or believe or experience, all while striving to remain more universal, less personal, and (save for this entry, apparently) rarely self-referential.

Of course, I also use Internet-based tools ranging from e-mail (which somehow seems old-fashioned these days) to Skype, from text messaging to YouTube, all of which are meant to keep me somehow connected with those both near and distant, allowing everything from quick 140-character notes to high-quality video to be transmitted from anywhere to me on demand, and from me to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Then there's my collection of iPods, which allow me to stay connected equally both to music I've enjoyed since I was a kid as well as those rare new releases that gain my interest. When I'm working or online, my 30 gig iPod 'classic' competes for listening time with my new 4 gig third-generation Shuffle, and both of those are supplanted during drive time by either my silver 1 gig second-generation Shuffle or my son's green Shuffle, which squeezes in a few 'dad tracks' like 'Rocket Man' and 'Rainy Night In Georgia' amongst its vast collection of tunes from The Wiggles and the Bloodshot Records kids compilation 'The Bottle Let Me Down.' And of course, two of those iPods help me listen to episodes of a number of podcasts, those homemade audio programs which to me have become nothing short of the voices of distant friends. All available on demand.

Finally, I'm perhaps ashamed to admit that I find myself spending more time these days checking websites, Facebook and Twitter updates on my cellphone. So, and despite not doing much with Digg or LinkedIn or StumbleUpon, it would seem I'm more connected than ever to those who utilize similar means for their communication.

But I do feel like something's been lost along the way.

Why is it when I see something interesting, I'm more likely to post it on Facebook than turn to someone and simply tell them about it?

Why is it when I have a good day, I'm more likely to wonder what made it so good and blog those thoughts, instead of sharing them in person?

Why is it when I'm at a place my friends would enjoy, I'm more likely to sent a Tweet than actually dial someone and say 'Come and join us'?

I suppose physical distance has something to do with it. After all, save for my local political acquaintences and fellow dads, I live much farther west than most of the people with whom I want to remain connected.

But I also wonder if my desire to decrease virtual distance is leading to an increase in 'real' distance. I wonder how friendships and relationships can thrive or even survive through the filter of electronic means. I wonder if others feel those electronic connections are as valid as the ones we feel outside of virtuality. I wonder if the satisfaction I feel at sharing my world's wonders via electronica is even real.

A couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times carried a story about a group of high-school students who wondered whether they could go without their electronic devices for an entire week. While many of the students succeeded, according to the article they discovered a lot about their worlds. The pleasures of family conversations. The wonder of books. And in one case, the beauty of birdsong, previously silenced by the constant presence of their personal iPod.

Early this morning, just before sunrise, with my windows open and the breeze coming in, my kitchen was filled with the sounds of singing birds greeting the sunrise. And for a few brief moments, I simply enjoyed it.

All without sending out so much as a Tweet.

3 comments:

Shawno said...

I just look at all of these means of connection as new ways to stay connected. I don't check into Facebook constantly (not even every day) and there's no way I could keep up with everything happening through my Twitter account. And thankfully, so far, no one has said to me, "Didn't you see my [insert name of social network here]!" in regards to an actual important correspondence. But, I get where you're coming from. Seems like with every gain we make in terms of technology, we remove a little bit more of our humanity. You could always move to Wyoming and get off The Grid. But would it be worth it?

Vegas Gopher said...

I think part of the trend comes from the desire for some sort of cybertrail of our lives. In this ever changing society, it seems that evidence of our life is erased like a cosmic Etch-a-Sketch. If you blog, Tweet or otherwise link your thoughts, fears, observations and witticisms, at least they'll always be there to refer back to when life gets hectic and you want to remember that cool site you saw or creative breakthrough you had or wacky cat video that made you laugh. In a way, it's not much different than the runestones left behind by the Vikings centuries ago. We're just more aware of what we're missing now when we become absorbed in capturing the moment instead of just experiencing it.

Annelisa said...

Funnily enough, I was speaking to my sister's mother in law about this very thing today. She was saying how she was against all the new technology when it first arrived, but now she loves it...uses it to skype her grandchildren in England and Australia (she's in Ireland) and she can actually see them rather than just hear them. She also thought the internet and other forms of modern communication made local life a lot less insular and more worldly, which, in her eyes, was definately a good thing.

I think the Net creates links to the outside world we might not otherwise have, including support in times when we don't want to necessarily address things to friends and family. Also, I think sometimes its quite good to get something down in the written word to clarify a situation, or to help to reduce it to 'past' status...to create a finality for it. The internet can act as a kind of mental health prop...and also a way of reaffirming who we are.
That doesn't mean to say real life is excluded. Internet folks are just as real as any other...there is simply an objectivity about them, even whilst the feelings between you and them are real (though sometimes I also think much of what comes to us from the net (including all the mediums you mention) can be easily misinterpreted, though perhaps more likely to be interpreted in a positive way since most folks tend to be pretty positive in their responses online...

Other forms of communication? Well mobile phones are a wonderful way of keeping in touch through the day. Ipods?...can cut out life so should be used sparingly. I'm still trying to work out the benefits of facebook and haven't used twitter, so can't comment on them...but generally I think any increase in communication in a world where one can easily be 'lost' has to be positive!

Does this make sense?

XX