It’s strange how technology connects us even as it drifts us apart

This column should have had a name such as ‘Technology and Other Animals’ or ‘Digital Alien’, considering the frequency with which it whines about the horrible things technology is doing to the society. But since life in a metro is about nothing but being a slave of technology, I guess the column’s name and the whining justify each other.

This is not to say I’m a fuddy-duddy who resists carrying a mobile phone or who still writes his stories in long hand. I am anything but that, and that is precisely why I am aware of the side-effects of technology — very often, it ends up achieving the very opposite of what it had intended to achieve. Communication is a good example of that. Mobile phones and the Internet are supposed to connect people, but are they really doing that? Technically, may be yes; but emotionally?

Time was when the phone and email were just modes of communication. But today those devices have usurped your identity. Now your existence has been reduced to being a 10-digit phone number. You are just a green / red dot on the left-hand bar of the gmail pages of people you know. You are no longer flesh-and-blood. When people see the green / red dot against your name, they know you are alive and kicking. When they see your status messages, they know what is on your mind. When they see your pictures on Facebook, they know what you have been up to and how you look these days. The result: there is no longer any urge to connect because you are technically connected 24/7.

Really, when was the last time you went out of your way to meet an old friend, in flesh and blood, without a specific purpose or project on your mind? Won’t it be such a waste of time to physically catch up with people, no matter how close they have been to you, when you can do all the talking over the phone or the Internet?

But on the other hand, thanks to the power given by the Internet, you have all the time in the world to connect with interesting strangers while lounging in the comfort of your bedroom, even at the cost of mentally drifting away from people you are supposed to stay connected with. An interesting stranger, after all, is any day more appealing than a familiar partner. If you still haven’t heard of the term ‘Internet widow’, it means you are not connected.

The Internet not only robs you of the urge to meet an old friend, but also of the enthusiasm that should seize you when you meet one — something I discovered recently. Last Sunday, I met an old friend after 15 years. We had worked together in Delhi and spent countless nights together over drinks, either at his place or mine, discussing dreams and plotting romances. And then one day, he left for Dubai — he had found a job there. For many years, I had no news of him. And then, two years ago, we became ‘friends’ again — on Facebook. Ever since, we have been chatting or messaging each other on a regular basis.

Needless to say, I was overjoyed when he decided to pay a visit to Chennai. I took him to a coffee shop instead of a pub so that we could talk — pubs can be too noisy to allow meaningful conversation.

As we sat facing each other, stirring our coffees, it struck me that we didn’t have much to talk about. Thanks to Facebook and Google Talk, we were already aware of what was happening in each other’s lives: there was nothing left to catch up with or reminisce about.

Suddenly, I felt more comfortable with the idea of having him as a green dot on my computer screen.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012