I wrote this post a really long time ago (which you’ll be able to tell from the outdated references). But I think it still holds true, even more today than earlier. So what say? Are we spiralling into a world of isolation while living in an illusion of connectedness?
I was one of the laggard consumers in the mobile phone market. For the 18-odd months I watched a new trend pick up among my family and friends, knowing that I’d have to pick it up eventually and resisting simply from force of habit. I went from nonchalance to mild curiosity to irritation to sheer resignation and finally compliance.
I particularly remember taking a bus home after class with a friend. The journey lasted an hour for me, an hour-and-half for her. She had a book, I had a walkman, the city was flying past and we had each other for company with a dayful of youthful events to discuss. But the better part of that time would be spent on missed-call tags, SMSing, an occasional game and sundry phone-fiddling – all hers on her newly acquired cellphone. Our conversation was peppered and then punctured with these interruptions often. I distinctly remember this one habit as a point of reference for change. It changed the equation of our friendship (always based on conversation – the volume and content of it), it altered the way I related to her and to myself.
In my mind, the start of the revolution in India is symbolized by an early Nokia advertisement showing a South East-Asian woman sitting on a campus lawn and strumming a guitar while her friend held up the mobile phone to her lips
Happy birthday to Grandpa
Happy birthday to you.
Nokia – connecting people.
Of course everyone remembers the days when a single call would cost Rs.16 a minute and you also had to pay for the privelege of receiving calls. But perhaps not. The teen-somethings that are the key interest group for mobile phone manufacturers would have been kids at that time and possibly not conscious of the financial implications of the then-current trends. Well kids, it’s true then – there was a time when a mobile phone was a luxury, not a vital necessity.
Mobile phone prices dropped, service providers undercut each other in a bid to woo the new market and Reliance put the world in everyone’s hands. We’ve neatly bypassed pagers and evolved to where a mobile phone becomes an extension of ourselves.
Covers, wallpapers, screensavers, ringtones and caller tunes allow us to give our beepers a sense of our identity. Games and other value-added services keep us tap-tapping busy. The limits of connectedness keep getting pushed furthur. First it was SMS for the type-happy folks, then Voicemail so we could do more than the bland ‘missed call’. Missed call alerts let us stay connected even when we were not. Connectivity itself is being redefined and re-redefined with Bluetooth, GPRS, moblogging, tweeting and what not.
7 years have got me through mobile phones and more. But I am still wondering – are we really more connected?
I have an office number, a home number and a mobile phone (SMS, Voicemail, GPRS, Bluetooth et al). I can even communicate with any number of people through a single SMS thanks to Twitter.
My contacts list follows a complex filing system- Family, School, College, Colleagues, Clients (A, B, C), Bloggers, Tweeple, Hobbyists (Community A, Forum B, Group C) and Friends. I just realised that I’ve started compartmentalizing my conversations as well.
Morning before train is an open slot meant for urgent messages only.
Morning on train is SMSspace thanks to errant voice networks. Alternately two calls can be fitted here with a break for the voice drop mid-line.
Morning after train is for issuing and confirming social invitations, evening events and weekend plans. The duration is perfect and it is fitting to be able to say “Just getting in to work. I’ll check my schedule and let you know.”
Email and Twitter during the day, in work breaks.
Post-lunch phone call to close friends in other cities. The pseudo-relaxed time is the only slot for those kind of conversations.
Tea-time email/Twitter/SMS/Phone call on a light day to confirm plans.
Evening on-the-way to catch up on missed calls, unreplied SMSes and broken conversations.
Night-way-home is an open slot for long, involved conversations on relationships, work tangles and family issues.
And then it suddenly makes sense to me that urban society is suddenly a collective-manic-depressive, oscillating from an unnatural obsession with connectedness and a near-suicidal impulse to disconnect completely. It might help to remember that with any level of connectivity, each of us still has only 24 hours in a day and a finite level of brain/tongue capacity.
I don’t think we are more connected to each other. Connectedness and isolation have to exist in a certain balance at all time. All that has happened is that the balance has gone from a controlled plug in/out grid to a shifting shapeless form where multiple connection points are possible. So the probability of being connected is higher but that of being disconnected is, as well. What’s more, it may be possible to predict where and when the next level of connectivity may come from. Sadly the same can’t be said yet about disconnectedness.
Plugged-in but not connected – Is that true of you?