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The Digital Division - Are We Really That Connected?
A recent trip to Boston calls into question whether technology and the Internet really leave us "connected"
This was originally a blog post I wrote for DailyTech back in 2006. I would suggest that technology driven self-isolation, with a false sense of connectedness, has only increased with the rise of social media over the last 17 years.
While packing my bags for a recent trip to Boston, I thought of the recent feature in PC Mag on road warriors and the gear they traveled with. Looking at everything I was packing, I started to wonder how much of this I would actually use. Now, I'm not in sales, and I'm not a VP, and I'm not particularly important (if this makes you wonder why the hell "Ibrin" has a blog here, look for the upcoming "Why the Hell does "Ibrin" have a Daily Tech Blog?" blog entry), so I have no real need to "stay connected." Unlike the people profiled, I don't need two cell phones (one electronic leash is enough), or even a Blackberry/Smartphone; and I don't need four kinds of external storage in my bag.
My total tech count ended up at:
Work laptop & Apple PowerBook (personal)
2 USB Keys (2GB Sandisk, and VPN Key)
Nintendo DS (w/ 6 games in flip case)
POS Motorola phone I need to upgrade
My intial thought for this first blog was to talk about what I used and what I didn't. That ended up being pretty boring. In the end, I used everything except the speakers, I worried constantly about losing the USB keys, and I even pulled out the DS during lunch at the meeting.
It's been a couple of years since I traveled for work, and what I noticed was how people now use technology when they travel. Sure, there were the loud talkers on mobile phones, and the kids with iPods - just like at home. But, it struck me how many people walled themselves off behind technology and refused to interact with the people around them.
When I got on the plane for the 7AM flight to Boston, all but three people in First Class were already typing furiously on their Blackberries. The cabin area was silent, with absolutely no talking either between passengers or on phones. The coach cabin was different. A ton of people were on phones calling loved ones or business associates giving the by-the-minute update. In fact, the lady next to me make six different phone calls before the cabin doors shut, and then she pulled out her knitting. (/roll eyes)
After we were airborne, I pulled out the iPod and the DS. And, most people ended up either doing something similar or plugging in head phones to watch "Just Friends" on the in-flight movie. With the introduction of mass-market MP3 players, and bringing the in-flight movie to the cattle class, there's no reason to even talk to the people you're traveling with. After breakfast service, the latest Nickelback album, and enough Nintendo DS to put a knot in my neck, I ended up hanging out with the flight attendants at the back of the plane for the remainder the flight.
Fast forward three days, and we're now on the 7PM return trip. The gate is filled with people wearing headphones (mostly college kids) or working on laptops (business folks wrapping up the week). Virtually everyone was in their own little world. We board, and get airborne. After the lovely in-flight meal, the guy (kid really, with him being in college, and me having crossed thirty) next to me pulled out his laptop and started playing Jedi Academy. Seeing as how he was proficient enough to be playing on a Thinkpad using the arrow keys and the pointing stick, I asked if it was the first time he was playing through.
He replied that it wasn't, and we ended up talking about the game and gaming in general. He ended up letting me take a test run, and I pulled out my DS. He ended up playing Meteos, Bust-A-Move, and the coolness that is Electroplanton. The conversation lasted the better part of the almost four hour flight. When we landed we continued to chat as we walked out of the gate, and I helped him find his connection (as IAH is my home airport). As we shook hands he said that this was the fist time he'd ever talked to anyone on a flight, at least for any length of time.
This guy was a sophomore at MIT, who must have made the trip back and forth 3 or 4 times at that point, and must have traveled to some degree before that. I couldn't believe that he had never talked to anyone on a plane. That is one of the great things about traveling - getting to meet new people. I wonder how many "first class deals" no longer get made because no one bothers to ask, "Who do you work for?" or "What do you do?" For all of our "connectedness" we (myself often included) listen to the same songs on our iPods, play a Gameboy, or sift through a pile of email that never really goes away - rather than talk to new and exciting people around us.
For all of the wired and wireless connections, are we really "connected?" Apply this same scenario to your apartment building, cubicle farm, or neighborhood. While we certainly can email or call anyone, anywhere in the world, do we know what's going on right around us? Do we take the time to express ourselves with more than a handful of smilies and emoticons? My guess is probably not as much as we should...
From the EIC (Kristopher Kubicki): Skip Clarke runs the wildly popular Widescreen Gaming Forum. I've known Skip since his site got off the ground, and I think he hits it right on the head. Once in a while, everyone should turn off their phones, log out of WOW, observe the world around them and get to know your their neighbors.