A Plea FOR a Connected Life

It seems a growing number of people - or at least a growing number of op-ed contributors - have latched onto the idea that technology is bad, scary, and limiting our lives to ones and zeros. "The Flight From Conversation" and "The 'Busy' Trap" being two notable examples. It's something that Nathan Jurgenson calls "The IRL Fetish" (thanks Brian Lam of The Wirecutter for the link).

Jurgenson breaks down the idea better than I can. What I want to do is present the other side. I want to voice my strong and eternal support for the wonder that is the modern connected life.

Because, dammit, it's awesome.

The fixation amongst these closeted technophobes is the fear an increasing "infiltration" of digital connectivity has replaced good old analog connectivity. That texting, Facebook, email et al somehow diminish or at least reduce the frequency of good old face-to-face conversations. These people have some sort of Thoreauvian desire to rid themselves - and by extension ourselves - of the modern world.

Well guess what? Not everybody can spend two years living like a hermit in our BFF's back yard. Most of us don't want to.

And weren't these same arguments posed by a previous generation? Don't you think a certain type of person lamented the arrival of the telephone for the same reasons?

I'm firmly in the camp of tech, I can't deny that. Maybe this entrenchment has led to my outlook. Technology is but a tool, a tool you can wield to enhance your life - or it can be an impediment to it. I choose the former, it seems that some now struggle with the latter.

Cutting out technology doesn't make you more aware of your world, as some have said, it makes you less aware. I'm not talking about email, that's merely a speedy update of the Pony Express. I'm talking data. Like the ability to send an image instantly around the world. My Mom can take a picture of something she finds funny or interesting with her phone, and email it to me. My Dad posts hilarious YouTube videos of the adventures he has with his adorable dog. I live on the other side of the country from my parents. . . how is this technology not a benefit? How does this not enhance my life?

I have a friend who lives on the other side of the world. I'm able to talk and text with her every day thanks to a free app for my "phone" called Viber. With Skype, we can talk as face to face as the thickness of the planet will allow. Last week I was flying on a plane, and instant messaging with her. Let me put this differently: I was communicating with her from the other side of the planet, in real time, while flying through the frickin air.

This isn't a good thing? I should avoid technology why?

Two of my closest friends wouldn't be married now if it weren't for email. How many couples do you know that would say the same? I got to see pictures of another friend's new baby moments after he was born. I can text friends a quick funny joke, or let someone who's down know I'm thinking about them. These quick interactions don't require the time or intrusion of a phone call, that can happen later.

So I'm sorry, how is all that bad?

I feel the Internet is the greatest invention in the last 100 years. You can feel free to argue its ranking, but not its importance. Just as the television, telegraph, newspapers and books all did before, the web opens a world of information to the fingertips of the masses.

"Turning off" or "tuning out" seems to me such a "first world problem," and I mean that as offensively as I can. Billions would love to have the problem of too much connectivity. Choosing to turn off your email, your phone, to disconnect, is making the choice to cast aside a freedom and opportunity countless others don't have. There are estimates there will be 4 billion smartphones in the world soon. Tell me how this isn't a good thing. Universal access to the Internet - and the near-infinite knowledge available there - could be one of the greatest advancements in human culture. . . ever. Think I'm being hyperbolic? When has increased mass access to knowledge been a bad thing? Has the Web not already made countless lives better?

To me this fear of a digital life is not a technology problem, it's a time management problem. Spend too much time on Facebook? Spend less time on Facebook. Want to talk to someone? Guess what! That email device you carry around works as a phone!!! I know, I was shocked too.

The key is balance. I love keeping connected with distant friends via Facebook. Know what I love even more? Spending time with them. As much as I hate to admit it, real life isn't like college. My friends and I all have jobs, we've moved away from each other, some of them have spawned. These factors make spending time together more difficult. Technology isn't to blame for that, life is to blame for that. So when we do get together, it's all the more sweet. Even better, we can skip right over the "what have you been up to" and move right on to the "pass the beer."

Because, you see, we've been apart only in the physical sense. Mentally, we've stayed connected to each other's lives through distance and time more than has been possible in the history of humankind.

And that's not awesome. . . how?

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