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Connected but alone? A response

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This TED talk really inspired me to write something about our most fundamental facet of being human: connection.

I remember watching sci-fi futuristic movies all those years growing up. People there always looked so slick, cold and distant; all fully equipped with estranged-looking machines. Looking at the current reality where everyone is wired and cannot separate from their phones for even five minutes, I don’t think we’re really far from that described future. Heck, if you pay attention to the tech news at all, you’d know that Google plans to launch the AR project glass that doesn’t look too far-off the technologies found in those movies.

As the older generation calls us “digital natives,” there is certain pressure to the generation whose unemployment rate is the least promising in the last few decades. But what exactly does that say about us being disconnected? We yearn for a technology that will make us feel less lonely by talking to us. We demand company yet refuse to deal with friendship residues. We turn to technologies and personal devices for that special connection. Relationships are messy and we’re prone to be hurt. We’re afraid to be alone but in attempt to feel connected, we learn less and less about ourselves. We deal with solitude by turning to a screen, oh wait, multiple screens and switching between different media about 27 times a day. No longer do we feel the need to explore our inner selves and figure out what’s going on inside before reaching out for companionship. We’re living in a fast-food society where even relationships are disposable. “I share therefore I am” is such a horrifying motto to live by but somehow, we’ve all conformed to it, one way or another.

I don’t think there’s anytime in the day that I part ways with my personal iPhone for more than 5 or 10 minutes. And I am already considered a “bad with phone” type of person. Our confidence and ability to function is largely dependent on a small piece of device. We receive emotional messages, daily updates, emails, etc. via this small device while we often forget to make eye-contact with human beings standing in front of us. We spend hours and hours on social network sites where the illusion of being connected satisfies our social needs. Nowadays, not receiving a facebook invite to a party is an equivalent of being excluded or left out of a social group. Birthdays are streamed with notifications from the beloved via the Internet. By and large, the world is intricately connected yet fundamentally isolated. My roommate and I talk by posting on each other’s wall, gchat and iMessage. Our capability to hold a normal conversation has consequently decreased exponentially. Online dating is becoming more and more popular. So on and so forth. I’m sure you can pull out multiple examples on your own, too.

One of my absolutely favorite things is a good conversation. No matter where, when and with whom, a truly enjoyable conversation is an exchange of commonalities, knowledge and interpersonal connection. That’s how I’ve come to love one-on-one interaction. As much fun as a group activity can be, you can only start to feel someone the moment you two spend time alone. Sometimes, even learning how to stay comfortable in silence is a skill requiring a lot of effort. This is not just a generational issue as Turkle pointed out: it’s a problem across the board for our parents, for us, for our siblings and the little ones who were literally born into advanced technology age.

The next time you’re glued to your phone screen, be aware of the self, the others and the device. I bet they all have a thing to say, just whether or not you choose to listen…


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