So don’t call me the tune –
I will walk away
At my yoga class on Saturday, someone’s phone began to buzz part way through. It was on silent. Silently buzzing. It was a slightly startling pointer to the ways that technology is redefining our lives. Silence is not what it used to be.
It’s not just silence that is being redefined. Being uncontactable for any length of time tends to be received with shock, if not downright displeasure. People call mobiles just to chat, rather than for urgent conversations. I try to discourage people from using my mobile for anything that’s not desperately urgent, but I find myself fighting a desperate rearguard action – it’s quite likely that this battle is already lost.
And yet, despite this high degree of electronic availability, actual communication has plummeted. People text, rather than call. Worse still, they assume that chatting on facebook replaces telephone or even face to face contact. Birthday messages get written on electronic walls, and the answer to “what’s up?” is taken at face value, when no-one can actually see your face. I could have tears streaming down my face, or be doubled over in pain, yet I can type “ok”, and be believed.
Electronic contact can be fantastic. Sometimes it allows you to have conversations that would be painfully difficult face to face. It makes contact with distant friends trivially easy. It is an incredible gift to be able to skype with a friend half way around the world. It has been my salvation when I have been ill and housebound. But when it replaces face to face contact, it is no longer a gift. Then it becomes a curse.
Just got to touch someone,
yeah, I want to be the one
So don’t call me the tune, I will walk away
One Country – Midnight Oil
We insist on people being readily contactable. We leap into action the moment the phone rings. And yet we have so little to say. It keeps coming back, for me, to community. When we interacted regularly with our neighbours, in a bygone era, people would notice if there was something up. When we interact via facebook, seven kinds of hell can be going on in our lives, and no-one need ever know. I could be hobbling around on a broken leg, and most of the people I call friends would never know if I didn’t post about it on facebook.
In my darker moments I fret that everyone else has a social life that doesn’t include me. There have been a few of those darker moments lately, as I battle chronic pain and the resulting exhaustion. But what if the truth is actually much more depressing than that? What if not having a community is the new normal?
A recent news story tells of a woman in Sydney who died up to 8 years ago, and nobody noticed. To be fair, she was 87 and probably died before facebook became popular. And these kinds of stories have popped up from time to time for years. But…I can’t help wondering. Are we replacing real life with virtual? Do our communities actually exist? What does it mean if your friends stop appearing in your facebook newsfeed? And how long would it take for you to notice?
Sometimes I crave silence and a book – but the silence I crave definitely doesn’t buzz. More often I crave people, and the contact I crave is not with dots on a screen.