Sunday, 5 July 2015

Is technology really making us more 'connected'?

Back in the 1980's with the explosion of financial markets and investment institutions, the evolution was heralded as the removal of roadblocks in the easy movement of capital within and across countries. It was believed that with massive deregulation and financial innovation, more and more people will have access to easy capital for mortgages, and felicitous instruments for investments. In fact everyone was so upbeat that people began seeing hope of universal prosperity on the cards. Developed nations like united states went with the flow and the tandem, and now even the finance secretaries and federal reserve chairmen were all ex bankers because everyone thought they ought to be fondled for the spectacular task of global financial progression and integration they were involved in. Now I don't really need to tell you what happened of that dream of millions who had to bear the brunt. Post multiple small financial fracases and the final nail in the coffin in 2008. millions lost their homes, their savings and their investments, leaving the world maybe more unequal and spiteful than it was. So I ask this very question, what if this otherwise impeccable technology and communications revolution is also no less vulnerable?

Consider what technology has done since the days of Usenet in 1996. First let's talk about the obvious merits. Now you can not only manage all your contacts of people you know using a mere pocket device, you also have various ways to communicate with them. The idea of video calling and chatting is obviously much more alluring than dialing them up on landline connections full of melarkey with potential eavesdropping. Moreover, communicating with lost friends is now a possibility with social networks bringing more and more people under their ambit. And the fact that you can now directly follow celebrities and befriend random but like minded strangers might kill any argument or case I may make against this technological revolution. But my altercation is not against the progression. It is against the way we humans are shaping it via our usage!

People used to have lesser friends in the past.(Technically, actually! If you consider every friend on Facebook as a genuine friend, even an average user might end up having more friends than even the most gregarious guy from the last generation!) But the 'connection' used to be much more real. Even a telephonic conversation that our fathers and grandfathers rejoiced the newly offered mirth of, is no match for in-person conversations. It is believed that only around 10 percent of our communication is comprised of our words, around 20 percent is the way we use the words, and around 70 percent is inhered in our body language and visual cues to the listener. So in essence while video chatting may come pretty close,  it's nowhere near as good as a jovial conversation over tea with a good old pal. 

Now talking about writing. While modern technology offers much more on this, there are still points worth considering. We can now save all the rework with one single edit, can now avoid usage of countless sheets of paper and can also get our written message across in microseconds as opposed to the days it once took. But in reality, we still lack the essence that a fine letter written on a piece of paper had. Everything from the scribing of the address on the envelope, the kind of envelope used, the kind of paper, the number of sheets, the number of folds and what not! Everything had an authentic enigma to it. And then the way the letter was scribed, with the strokes, the furrows made by the tip on paper, and the occasional smudge of maybe a tear or two. There was much more to a handwritten letter than the mere words, and that dear reader, is something that no written communication on these modern platforms could ever even come close to matching. And then the signature and name at the end of the letter is something I'll dedicate the entire next para on. 

While email has been around for very long, texting and chatting amalgamted with the writing etiquette later on. Emails were initially scripted in full length with no substantial use of abbreviations or acronyms. Emails were just a convenient adaptation of normal letters with all other elements of conventional letters preserved. But with the advent of contemporary ways to make life all the more convenient, short forms became the norm rather than the exception. Suddenly, Emails became more and more shorter and the "Hope this mail finds you well" and "regards" at the end, were now automatically inserted. So much we became dependent on technology that even a mail we wrote in a snide and angry mood might end up having a ''thanks' at the end. Now it either perplexed the worried reader, or probably the reader too knew this was automatically inserted and was indolent towards it!

Essentially, the human element in emails was getting lost amid a new set of rules laid down by the users collectively. It was either because people did not have the time to write full length mails, or probably because now there was texting and chatting which were based on the very premise of short and concise communication. So the telegraph and letters which remained distinct for decades and served very different purposes till now, got merged when Emails and text/chatting became somewhat integrated. Now the only difference between the two is that email remains the only officially certified correspondence. But in terms of how we use them, a PFA and a default greeting maybe the only extra thing that you find on the emails nowadays. And as no one really cares, why should you? 

So my basic question is that while we now communicate much more and with many more people, either out of choice as in an office, or out of volition as I'm doing through this blog, our communication is more and more non-human and fragile. We are just concerned about the words anymore, but all other elements of communication that formed the framework for those words, are fast disappearing. Now you may say that video chatting may actually mean much more for a solider than a tear drenched letter sent to him on the frontier. But while the video chat is live and gives him a chance to see his mother or wife, the tear doused letter becomes his sole companion when he goes on a mission, because it can be touched and felt, and it ensnared and trapped the real emotion, unlike what the video chat could have when the wife or the mother would have actually pretended to be happy when they actually felt like crying! 

In a nutshell, communication is losing its essence. While communication is becoming more omnipresent, it is losing out on some of its facets that really mattered. It seems like the connections that were made because of communication being so open, so honest and so heartfelt, are now made in haste and hence are frail. You could express true emotions while meeting someone in person and in a letter, but you can actually bluff on phone calls and portray a facade on email. But thankfully some sense prevails as we move ahead. While we largely communicate through bits and bytes transferred through the Internet, we still have the more important office meetings in real conference rooms as opposed to taking place on video con calls. And even today, I don't think that we've gone to the extent of making proposals online. Though that day too may not be far away. I so very wish communication could once again become as earnest and untrammeled it once was. And I only hope that technology doesn't kill its essence completely in the name of allowing us to communicate much more!

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