A FUNNY thing happened on the way to the communications revolution: We stopped talking to one another.
I was walking in the mall with a friend recently, and his mobile phone rang, interrupting our conversation. There we were, walking and talking on a beautiful sunny day and -- poof! -- I became invisible; absent from the conversation.
The mall was filled with people talking on their mobile phones. They were passing other people without looking at one another, not even saying hello. Evidently, for some people the untethered electronic voice is preferred over human contact.
The telephone used to connect you to a person who is not physically present. Now, it makes people sitting next to you feel absent. Recently I was in a car with three of my friends. The driver shushed the rest of us because he could not hear the person on the other end of his mobile phone. There we were, four friends, zooming down Recto Avenue, unable to talk to one another because of a gadget designed to make communications easier.
Why is it that the more connected we get, the more disconnected I feel? Every advancement in communications technology is a setback to the intimacy of human relationships. With e-mail and instant messaging over the Internet, we can communicate without seeing each other or actually talking to one another. We prefer to exchange thoughts online even if the person we are trying to communicate with is just beside us.
As almost all conceivable modes of contact between human beings get automated, the alienation index is also going up.
Making a deposit at the bank? Why talk to a teller -- who, by the way, just might happen to live in your neighborhood -- when you can just insert your card into an ATM?
In the US, some supermarket chains are using carts with self-scanners so customers can check themselves out. You don’t have to make eye contact with people, effectively avoiding those check-out people who look at you and ask how you are doing (as if they cared).
I own a mobile phone, an ATM card and an e-mail account. Giving them up isn’t an option -- they’re great for what they are intended for. It’s their unintended consequence that makes me cringe.
The communications industry devoted to helping me keep in touch is making me lonelier -- or at least facilitating my antisocial instincts. So I gave myself some restrictions -- no text messages for people I’m with in the same building or for those who I meet every lunch hour.
What good are all these brilliant technologies, if there’s nobody in the room to hear you exclaim "brilliant!"?
This was published in inq7.net on Jan. 12, 2002