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Electronic Networking, Personal Isolation

January 11th, 2013

Waking up before the alarm this morning I even had a good 4+ hours of sleep. I hadn’t left much of anything to do this morning other than pack up the computer (night spent charging all the electronics) and print out the cruise boarding pass. As it turns out – NCL emails the On Board discounts (one more way to transfer costs to the customer) as well as the luggage tags. Since I can get luggage tags at the dock, it was the work of a couple of seconds to realize that there was nothing in the coupons worth having.

Taxi to the Bahnhof – not willing to chance waiting on the hourly Strassenbahn at this time of the morning. One cup of coffee and a deliciously not good for me flaky/buttery croissant later and I was feeling almost human,

But where I was going with the subject line is as follows: the more we seen to connect up electronically whether it be with social media sites, bulletin board forums, instant messaging/texting or email the less we seem to connect to the people who are physically around us.

I boarded the ICE in the very front since it is a Handi Free Zone. In Mannheim a group of three young men, obvious friends as well as work colleagues boarded the train and entered my compartment. After dropping their duffles next to my suitcase each promptly sat in a separate seat, pulled out electronic handhelds and proceeded to message/watch a movie/read a book. They each sat in their own bubble of space for the 50 minute duration of our journey to Frankfurt Airport not even disturbed by the conductor (maybe the Bahn doesn’t charge Politzei in uniform for their transportation to work?). Getting off the train, they were back to smiling, joking and otherwise being social.

I can understand the need for quiet time, don’t get me wrong. The development of the Internet over the last 25+ years means that I have gotten to know people all over the world some of whom I have met in person, others are still voices only in my head from their words on my screen.

Trading emails/txts with one’s children and friends has become easier than phone conversation. It maintains communications and contact, but with a different context than either phone or old fashioned letter writing. The voices have moved from the page and ear into the imagination. Words, word choice have become critical but are often ignored. Punctuation, grammar and spelling seem to have been tossed aside in favor of short cuts, abbreviations and emoticons. (Note, I make no claims to spelling or grammar but I do try).

What I don’t see is people making eye contact with each other. How can they when their attention is glued to the small screen in front of them? I do see people stopping, oblivious to their surroundings as they read and answer txt messages resulting in stumbling off escalators, bumping into others and [hopefully] avoiding becoming roadkill from vehicular traffic.

All around me on airplanes those smart phones are held with practically death grips with fingers frantically getting out those last characters as the plane taxis out to take off. The minute wheels touch the ground out come the phones, everyone frantic to catch up on whatever might have been missed while in the air.

Now, I don’t think I am all that important and nothing I am currently doing is critical. A message now or in a few hours is all the same. No matter what the emergency, there is little I can do to effect a resolution when I am hours or days away. Moral support? Yes, but I can do that with a simple phone call. If there is nothing I can do – and the crisis is over before I hear about it – as long as it emotionally benefits the person letting me know then I am fine.

But are we connecting to others via media at the expense of those around us? Is it easier to text than sit down for a cup ‘a? Are many of us living through others vicariously and avoiding dealing with the world in front of our eyes?

I will plead guilty to traveling a lot. I enjoy seeing new places and don’t believe that I am ever going to know any as well as a native. Ships give me a chance to travel at a reasonable pace and to converse in person with dozens of people from various countries and walks of life. It is an environment where it is alright to strike up conversations with total strangers some of whom have become long term friends; others whose company I enjoyed at the time but may never cross paths with again.  I am trying to use electronic media as an inexpensive communication tool and not as a substitute for life.

And, if I was not on the computer or traveling, I would have to clean the house.

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  1. January 14th, 2013 at 16:59 | #1

    Nevertheless, I was so thankful for the cell phone when my tire went flat this weekend!

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