The loneliness of the connected?



Purba Ray reflects in this first person piece – have we have become more connected or disconnected, or both?


I’m not a phone person. Don’t get me wrong. I’m mostly surgically attached to my phone, giving fodder to the husband for his countless number of jokes entirely at my expense. I use it to tweet and check updates and delete WhatsApp forwards. But I am incapable of having long conversations on the phone. I have to remind myself again and again to fix a time slot to make that call.  Before I can say eesh, I realize it has slipped my mind yet again and it’s dial another day.For someone so vocal, I often run out of things to say in just two minutes.

For someone’s who’s a gainfully unemployed web columnist, I am also always short of time.

Strangely I am not alone in my fear of the dial function of the phone. I often see people share similar sentiments on social media. It’s a space where we have conversations with ourselves and hope that someone will eavesdrop. A community where people wear their lack of social skills like a badge of honor, but have no qualms about pouring their hearts out to complete strangers.  Couples declare undying love for each other in public and quarrel in private. Parents get to tell the world how talented, bright their offspring is. Everyone is trying to convince each other how blessed they are.Technology seems to have made us choosy about who we interact with and also lonelier?

When I was growing up, my Mother’s idea of a pep-talk was telling me how talented, bright, obedient Mrs X Mrs Y and Mrs Z’s children were and I was doing nothing about it. In fact, the more your parents loved you, the more you got reprimanded by them. I still get scolded by my Mom for not calling her enough, for not bothering to keep in touch with uncles and aunts I once so loved. I can’t because I feel emotionally distant from my uncles, aunts and cousins, who were once such an important part of my growing-up years. All my happy memories are huddled in the summer breaks I spent with my cousins, with no television, no Internet to distract us.  I would cry (sometimes in front of the mirror to feel doubly miserable) every time we had to go back home.


The present I has become a spectator who clicks like for pictures of family celebrations that occasionally pop up on Facebook. Makes me wonder – has technology obliterated the need for physical interaction or even a decent conversation? Why brave nasty traffic, nastier drivers to make the effort of driving half through town to meet relatives, when all we need to do is forward a joke or a morning motivational quote on WhatsApp to let them know they are on our minds? It comes as no surprise then, the ‘tears of joy’ emoji was chosen as the word of the year by the Oxford dictionary folks.

I grew up at a time when my parents could drop in at a friend’s place unannounced and still be welcomed with open arms, unlike today where we need to exchange countless texts to first fix a date and then feel completely stressed out micro-planning the evening. My parent’s generation didn’t need six starters, eight main dishes and a cabinet full of the finest wines to make their friends feel cherished. All they needed was each other and steaming cups of chai or orange squash to keep the evening going. From dropping in at a friend’s place, to calling to ask if it’s okay to come, to texting to ask if it’s ok to call, relationships have indeed come a long way.

But back then entertainment did not have 65 channels and a tête-à-tête with the cerebral kind required the effort of socializing and not a simple login. There were three good soaps, Chitrahaar and the Sunday movie that the family watched together.In our family of three today, I can’t remember the last time we all sat together to watch TV. My daughter watches Korean Soaps, I watch murder mysteries and the husband, news.  When my friends talk about soaps and movies they watch, I have no idea what they’re talking about.

I’m still not sure if it’s a worrying trend. Barjatiya kind of families has evolved into Farhan Akhtar type nuclear setups where our children don’t grow up as part of the herd. They are left to their own devices to entertain themselves. So, it’s natural for them to develop a strong sense of individuality and be assertive about their likes and dislikes. But what worries me, is how happy our kids are to be on their own, and immersed in the world of their own making. After all gadgets and apps give us their unconditional presence and don’t demand commitment. They don’t hurt and throw up perplexing emotions.Previously unheard of terms like me time, quality time have made an appearance in our vocabulary. I feel, we’ve become possessive of our personal space and resent unwanted intrusions.

We live at a time where our biggest fear is a phone with no battery and we carry with us power banks and chargers for imaginary emergency situations.  A few days without the Internet makes us break into a sweat. We are quick to fish out our phones the moment we sense the company we are in is going to be boring. Our compulsive need to be constantly occupied makes us fidget with our phones for news and updates. And before we leave for a vacation, we make sure we charge our iPads, Kindle and phones.

We are connected yet disconnected.

So, is technology making us lonely or picky about who to interact with? I’d say both. Since our need for social interaction is met by technology, we can afford to be choosy about who we share our deepest thoughts with, whether online or offline.  But being selectively social has also resulted in us becoming lonelier. We tend to create a curated list of friends who share similar ideologies, reading habits and angst.  We can reach out to them when we need them and ignore them for the rest of the year and console ourselves by saying true friends can be taken for granted.  Unlike our relatives, they will seldom ask uncomfortable questions.

And when everything fails, you can always keep a pet?

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