Is connectivity pushing us apart?

A couple weeks ago I was out with a friend for dinner. To the right of us was a couple pecking away on their smartphones while they waited for their meals. To the left of us was a man working on his laptop while enjoying what looked like a niçoise salad. Noticing, my pal said with a laugh, “Maybe I should go sit at the bar and we could just text each other, sharing our meal remotely.” The scene was funny and sad at the same time. I get the allure, a world without boundaries, etc. A little weaving of global social fabric is great for the common good. But in this context I wondered, do we really want to be more connected, or just less connected to the people we’re physically with?

Awhile back I read an article about Tiffany Shlain’s film ‘Connected’. Not surprisingly, the film explores our increasing dependence on gadgets and blah. Shlain explains:

“These phones extend our desire for emotional connection. So these are all expanding human capacity because it’s us evolving. We continue to want to have more ways to exchange ideas and connect.”

From a professional perspective I get it. But, on a personal level, I really don’t. When’s the last time you said to a pal, “Hey remember that one time I emailed you about that amazing pot roast I made?” or “God, that text you sent me a couple months ago about Joe’s shirt was hilarious.” I can tell you, with some degree of certainty, that you never said that, and probably never will. You need to share the meal and see Joe’s shirt together to create a true connection—which I believe is most often based on shared experiences. There are always exceptions of course, but generally speaking…

Shlain might feel these devices extend our desire for emotional connection, and maybe they do, but they don’t deliver the on goods. Just like handling a peach in the store isn’t the same as ordering a peach from Amazon Fresh, being with someone face-to-face is nothing like “being” with them screen-to-screen.

Don’t get me wrong, devices are great in a way because they close certain gaps—but when there aren’t gaps, I’d argue they tend to create them. True these devices are an intermediary power, no doubt, but purveyors of the emotional connection we so deeply  “desire,” I just don’t see it.

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