The more I notice how things seem to function, the more I notice the interconnectedness between them. The economy, technology, the pressures of time, interpersonal relationships, health – all seem to be related each to the other, each influencing the other. I observe this especially during this holiday season, when I notice how little time I seem to have to devote to what needs to be done, what it is the season to do, and what I would like to be doing.
I think the understanding that the pace of time has increased has become common knowledge. Whether one acknowledges that it is running faster, or whether one perceives time to be inflating, the effect is the same. People are finding less time to sleep or indulge in down time, and are running ever faster. What is less often noticed are the interconnected fingers between this phenomenon and other areas of our lives.
One of my favorite people recently shared with me how difficult it is becoming to stay in touch with friends and family. To her, it felt as if people were drifting away from each other, connecting briefly with only those people with whom one is working at the time. I share her feeling. Most of the time I used to spend in the actual physical presence of those I love has evaporated, to be replaced by interactions with those with whom I work or with computer facilitated communication. It is a bit less so with family with whom I actually share a residence. Yes, we have innumerable technological devices with which to stay in touch; none of those devices actually physically connects people. It is as if we can no longer relate, unless we do it in cyberspace instead of on Earth.
This increasing immersion in the cyber world continues to pull us in, as inexorably as the quicksand in Pete Seeger’s song, Big Muddy. We shop in cyberspace, talk in cyberspace, read and research in cyberspace, receive medical treatment facilitated by cyberspace, and are excluded from much if we do not actively participate in this transfer of life to cyberspace. (I notice that I am communicating this in cyberspace.) A computer is fast. As we live more and more in cyberspace, we, too, go faster and faster. The quantity of our interactions increases, while the quality of our relationships is often decreased by the very speed of those interactions. Some relationships are dropped, as we no longer have time to maintain them. Other relationships are reduced to quick bits of conversation over text or chat or email.
All this widely touted life in the fast lane, facilitated by the latest devices, has an effect which I think most people did not anticipate would happen. While appearing to be more connected – to each other, to the marketplace – we have actually become more separated. Our presentation faces, our “masks,” are what interact in cyberspace, in our bits of conversation and our business deals. The real us, the people who we are inside, are effectively hidden. That may seem like an advantage in the current atmosphere of apprehension (hmm, that must be related, too), but in actuality it separates us one from another and reduces us to bits and bytes of acceptable sameness.
A tantalizing question is, who profits from all this separation and sameness?
One explanation which I have read, phrased differently in varied sources, is that the more separately we live, the more stuff we buy – we do not share, for example, a vacuum cleaner. We buy one each.. The shared computer or the shared car or the shared device do not stimulate a consumer economy as much as each person having his or her own. The first time I ran across this idea was in the book The Greening of America by Charles Reich. However, I have heard it in different ways from many sources. It seems a reasonable idea – at least reasonable enough to find out about and ponder.
Now that the holiday season is again here (and rushing by), let us all, at least for a few quiet moments, ponder whether all this speed and convenience is worth the price of separation.