The conundrum of our connected world

We live in an age which is forever impressing upon us the happy fact that we are connected to each other in countless ways, joined at the hip so to speak by the mobile phone and the internet.

Technology has brought in a host of new age improvements in the way we communicate with each other, from the now passé email to the ubiquitous WhatsApp and other prodigious chat applications that now exist in the technology and user space.  We are constantly reminded that the whole world is waiting to hear from us – from the good morning messages that inundate our phone via WhatsApp, to the warm and fuzzy messages of love and caring that we exchange with our loved ones. Everyone is just a click away and electronic communications is now running so smoothly, that for anyone to even contemplate writing letters would be akin to regressing to the stone age.

So, here we are, all 7 billion of us, (give or take a couple of billion for the unfortunate few who don’t own a device – gasp ! – with an interconnectivity experience like never before. With a phone glued to our ears – or more frequently now, texting and swiping to ensure we don’t miss a single message or update from any of our crucial relationships on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and beyond.

There is absolutely no denying that we are hugely benefitted by the impressive computing and mind boggling speeds at which we are now able to transact using our phones / tablets. Book a movie or airline tickets in a jiffy, shopping impulse ? No problem. Go online and shop to your heart and your wallet’s content on Amazon. Bored and wondering what next ? Play Candy Crush on your I Phone 7 till the cows come home. Getting restless wondering how many of your 700 + friends have liked that yellow dress of yours – log onto Facebook and check it out, while sipping your coffee. The list can go on and on… Technology has now ensured that every object of our desire, that we aspire or crave for, can be immediately sourced on the Universal Gigamarket in cyber space – Google. So that takes care of that.

But let’s just pause for a moment to reflect on this amazing fact; are we really connected ? To the people we love and whom we care about? What about our friends and acquaintances, colleagues and school friends? Are we living happily-ever-after, eternally thankful for this deluge of inter-connectedness with all and sundry – from the milk guy to the pizza store to the wife and children?

Of late, I have mulled this question a lot and the more I see it happening in front of me, the more I am convinced that the connectedness that we are experiencing is a chimera – a delusion which we are happily succumbing to, without really thinking about the level and depth of connectedness and wellbeing that we would normally experience in the real , non- cyber world.

We bond with our peer groups – coworkers and colleagues, subordinates and bosses, all wrapped up in a tight glue of whatsapp connectivity. We share jokes and wish everyone a very Happy Birthday. Ditto with our ever expanding social circle of friends – a term much misused in today’s context of competition and blatant display of one- upmanship and display of objects which everyone seems to value highly these days – Bigger and “smarter” phones, TVs, cameras, laptops and what have you. In this unceasing race towards I me and mine is better, bigger and nicer than yours, do we even stop to consider the true meaning of what it means to be a good friend, a caring colleague or a true spouse ?

I am not very sociable by nature but I try to dwell outside my comfort zone sometimes – to do this I venture a Hello, how are you to people whom I may not know well or may not be very comfortable with. When I do this, they reciprocate as well – but it just stops at Hi ! Am good and you ? I have yet to see a friend (other than my childhood buddies) who really care when they ask me that all important  question – “How are you ?”.

What is bothering you ? Do I see a hint of sadness ? You seem pre-occupied today. All these and more, which if asked with a genuine desire to know my state of being, would actually be very welcome to me and would enable me to unburden myself of at least some of my worries. But once the initial greetings are dispensed with, the topics shift to all of the important things going on in the world and country – the debate on EVMs, politics galore, the newest I phone compared to others, how to beat the system or better still how others are beating the system and getting away with it and other equally mundane and mind-numbing topics of conversation.

The low quality of communication doesn’t end there. People take immense pleasure in creating whatsapp groups and inundating unsuspecting people with morning wishes, inane videos of people doing equally mindless stuff, jokes on politicians and wives, emojis, birthday wishes, festival wishes, exam wishes and on and on and on. To me it just seems pretty overwhelming and I tend to switch off from these whenever I feel there is a surfeit of information and electronic conversation – which is to say, quite often.

Then we have the ultimate God of Cyberspace and virtual friendship – Facebook. Friend requests are received from random strangers whom I don’t know from Adam (or Eve for that matter). Old friends keep recounting tales of our youth and the good times we all had in school or college. Sorry, but I can’t remember more than a handful of them. But the best part of the great Facebook Family Fun is what passes for exchange of ideas – football fanatics, cooking classes, photos of mothers and daughters and friends, of school and college and Zumba and office and fitness. The entire platform is designed to keep pumping information – 98% of it being completely useless or trite, with only a meagre balance left that really talks about a meaningful topic or situation to me.

So how are we connecting with people ? Are we really interested in the well being of our friends and family ? Or are we merely going through the motions, and skimming the superficial, while ignoring the more important parts of staying connected – with a smile, a hug and a genuine query about the other person’s well being ?

Do we take interest in what the other person is saying , no – do we even hear what he is saying or are we always in a hurry to rush in with our ideas and comments, drowning the other’s voice and concern ? Are we truly connected as a global citizen and do we really strive to connect with people in different corners of the world or are we just keen on increasing the number of internet friends? Do we even care about our own families or are we in a race with others to prove how much we love them, by posting pictures galore as evidence ?

To be a truly connected community is to be able to empathise with each other. To be able to reach out and share feelings and compassion, love and warmth. To be able to see the other person’s view and to be able to walk ten feet in his and her shoes.

To be connected is to be able to care for the poor and deprived, and not walk with our eyes closed to the penury and abject misery of many of our brethren. To place a few rupees in a beggar’s hand and see the light of thankfulness in his eyes, to help an old woman cross the road and to hear her tremulous thanks, to look into the eyes of your spouse and ask how was your day and truly feel the difficulties encountered by him or her while they go about their daily grind. These to my mind are the true indicators of being a connected whole, a community of global citizens, who care for each other and the world at large.

This may not happen in my lifetime but I am an optimist and as John Lennon crooned in one of my favourite songs – “ You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us… and the world will be as one.”