This morning, my friend Edmil decides to declare it ‘#DisconnectTuesday’—as the name suggests, it’s the day he disconnects from the virtual world and immerses solely in the physical one. While I wouldn’t know how well this plan to disconnect went until his day ends and he comes back online, this declaration has left me wondering about the nature of how our age lives in a dynamic fusion of both the physical and the virtual; one that has connected us to so much more with the tradeoff of disconnecting us from many others, and leaves us with the luxury of choosing between the proportion of the two as we like.
I have written about the nature of the Internet (its speed, its influence and its function) and the dilemma between choosing to connect (or otherwise) numerous times but today’s will be about the things that appear to have gone to waste because of the choice we make to connect to our devices instead.
So, as part of my promise to myself to be writing more this holidays, my MacBook has become my travel buddy and today I am writing in Buona Vista MRT waiting for the arrival for my best friend from primary school, it is 1120AM on a Tuesday morning. The multilingual announcements about various reminders we have come to memorise by heart are on some kind of infinite loop and the people stream down from the escalators periodically; but strangely enough, while the flow of people is incessant and there’s definitely no lack of people in this common space (one of the most common in our everyday lives today), there is little interaction nor engagement—it’s as if everyone is living in their own, separate, invisible capsule, self-absorbed, somewhat self-sufficient and just co-existing in a common space out of convenience. When I look up and around, it seems I can categorise those who are “Connected” (to virtual space) into three levels: the first being the ones just on earpieces, the second are those completely drawn in by their phone screens and the third would be those who put both of the former together. Combine them all, they form one camp of people whom I shall call the Connected. And so ‘What about the minority that remains disconnected?’ you may ask—it’s exactly these people I speak for today and in this post, I discuss the Disconnected.
The Disconnected is left in limbo, left behind. It’s as if the Internet were a gargantuan high school party that everyone was a part of, and the disconnected– the uninvited. Or you can imagine the Internet as a form of paradise (that’s what the connected act as if it were), and the disconnected are left mortals deprived of its (perceived) magic. There is a queer feeling I get when I’m part of the disconnected—the temptation to join the connected is powerful for there is no tangible takeaway that you can gain from remaining amongst the disconnected and the choice of switching camps is just a breath away. It is effortless: reach into my pocket, turn off the airplane mode on my device and here I am. But I occasionally realize that those who are aware, and real, are often the disconnected. They can manage healthy conversations and engage effectively in physical interaction; they are good friends to have and often times, good company to be with. On the flipside, the connected can manage less than a couple of minutes of that. When the connected, isn’t connected, there is an inability to hold conversations, to maintain eye contact without feeling awkward and there is an uncomfortable feeling resultant of the physical reality.
At the start of this post I described the nature of today’s age to be one that was a dynamic fusion or virtual and physical—it is a luxury to have, this privilege to choose between which of the two experiences we want, or how we’d like for them to come together. Yet, the disconnected are the ones to enjoy this privilege as they comfortably transit between the platforms and it is the connected that have seemed to abuse this privilege and hence have lost the luxury of choice, as disconnection now leaves them like fish out of water.