It’s 2011, and, technologically speaking, human beings have never had a greater capacity to be connected. Instantly, constantly connected. Text, phone, voice mail, email, Skype, Facebook and other social media of similar ilk. Human relationship (connectedness) is less and less about time and space, because it no longer must rely on time and space.
There is much to enjoy and appreciate about electronic connectedness. On the one hand, my personality was built for the world of texting and emailing. I revel in the ability to exchange random bits of information, reminders and odious details throughout the day. Items about which I would otherwise have to keep notes. Notes that I invariably lose in the back of my car or leave at the office. Or just forget because, after making a note to myself, I forget where I put the note. Sometimes I forget that I ever made the note at all. My father used to refer to this attribute in my personality as having “my head up my ass.” Nice. Years later I would laugh with my mom, saying, “My issues with my father stem from him being mean to me; I never said that he was technically incorrect.”
I’m saying detail just isn’t my thing.
I love Skype. As my kids grow up and leave for college or join the Army, it’s good to see their big grins on my laptop monitor while I talk with them. And the 750 miles between me and my girlfriend are greatly soothed by real time audiovisual.
Yet, here’s what nags me: I can’t seem to shake the feeling that, in this Age of Perpetual Connectedness, human beings have never experienced themselves as more isolated. That is, less connected. Asked another way: To what extent does acute attention to cyber-relationships erode both our desire and our capacity for authentic intimacy in real time and real space?
I hate that Facebook has turned the perfectly good and useful noun “friend” into the ugly gerund “friending.” As in when people whine, “I friended you and you didn’t friend me back!” You’re kidding me, right? Or as in, “I have 312 friends on Facebook.” And I bite my tongue to keep from saying: “No. You don’t. No one has 312 friends. Finite beings cannot have 312 friends. Unless they have no friends at all. It’s more that you have 312 acquaintances. Or, maybe ‘trophies’ is a better word.”
I’m not the first to observe the irony of two people, sitting down together for lunch, each spending the entirety of the lunch date intermittently texting with people who aren’t there having lunch! More than once I’ve been rightly reprimanded by my children for pretending to be with them while really focused on my cell phone.
“The Light of Other Days” (2000) is a science fiction novel by Arthur Clarke and Stephen Baxter. It’s a terrific yarn about the invention of “the wormhole camera.” With this technology, you can sit in front of your computer screen and point a viewing lens at any coordinate, behind any door, into any home, bedroom or bathroom, and view what is occurring there in real time.
The technology gets out. Becomes inexpensive and available. The result? The abolition of human privacy. Forever. Sure enough, the new technology evokes the darker human instincts. The next thing you know everybody is spying on everybody. Watching neighbors, friends, co-workers and strangers shower and having sex. Spouses no longer have to trust each other; they monitor each other. There are no private conversations. There are no private acts. Privacy is obsolete. A vestige of the past.
At the very end of the book, the inventor of the wormhole camera walks in a public park at midday. Over on a picnic bench is a young, college-age couple. The couple is passionately kissing, then they have sex. Right there in the park. Right there in broad daylight. The scene is startling but, later I thought, so logical. If you abolish privacy, then you condition the populace to laud shamelessness.
I’m saying that authentic intimacy requires boundaries. Containment and privacy. Authentic intimacy requires rigor, concentration and continuity. In that it requires time and space. A Buddhist parable says, “He who has many friends has no friends.” That has never been truer than in our culture.
The people most precious to me have my phone number, my email address, and they know where I live. That’s enough for me.
I don’t have the time for all this Connectedness. Besides that, all this connectedness leaves me too often feeling anxious and disconnected.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.