Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Illusion of Connectivity in a Digitally Connected World

By Omar Javaid

Technology is not value neutral; it has a taseer (urdu) and influences the user independent of how user uses it. Consider the example of any famous sport car versus a Suzuki pickup, if you sit in the former, then the machine will tempt you to drive it fast, how? Is it alive? No, but it has been constructed for that purpose and subsequently will influence the psyche of the user in a unique way. Take smart phone for example, it is designed to connect you on the go, i.e. its designer has assumed or imagined a distinct kind of a lifestyle in which that phone is supposed to fit and service. Now assume your life style isn't like that, and you are not a frequent user of a smart phone, however once you have got it in your hand, that phone will force you to transform your lifestyle to make it compatible with the phone or get rid of the phone itself. But you won’t get rid of it as you have spent a substantial amount of money to buy it (in Pakistan a low end smart phone is around Rs. 15,000), or someone has gifted it to you… over and above it is beautifully designed, responsive, and helpful in many ways also. Now imagine that phone was initially designed for a person who didn't had time to spend with his family, friends and he wanted to be connected with all his professional contacts for commercial reasons... The cell phone will therefore stays with you and will influence you to transform your life in a way in which its most efficient utilization is made possible, i.e. in a life style where most of your friends and family members are rather connected online, the time saved would be spent elsewhere.

This is not fiction or hypothetical, this is already happening, all around us... Even the author isn't completely safe from such a transition; the illusion of connectivity which technology is creating is fooling us into a state of loneliness, a state for which this technology was exactly designed for. This isn't a conspiracy, this is what products are supposed to do in a capitalistic society, i.e. create their need in the life’s of the users, even if doesn't really exists... as this is essential for the profitability of the corporations who produced them... the marketing people first deceive the public to buy a product, once it’s done, the product does the rest, i.e. to make the user its addict.

Traditional societies like that of Pakistan, were family oriented, however the elder generation miserably failed due to the generation gap to establish a relationship with the current one to transfer those family values... the modern education, which was assumed to be beneficial for the public was encouraged without any critical evaluation, which was the largely responsible for this gap, and for producing a status conscious, materialistic and individualistic person (for details see 'Deciphering Education System' page above) i.e. a kind of individual for whom the technological revolution was meant for... Thanks to its attractive packaging & form along with the illusion of companionship it gives, it has already begun to feed itself on the indoctrinated vulnerabilities of the growing generation of today.

The Atlantic article ‘Is Facebook making us lonely?’ Sheds some light on this matter and comprehensibly explains the nature of problem, in her TED talk Sherry Turkle has also explained how the so called smart devices which we carry are psychologically so powerful that they are disconnecting already disconnected youth in the developed world. Turkle has however didn't explain the nature of the psychological weaknesses which allow the users of these devices to immerse themselves... These devices just don’t create an illusion of connection but also makes the idealized self-image to look real, creating another layer of illusion i.e. 'I am the person whom i idealize in my mind, and any short comings are not just real'...

The reason for this is yet even deeper, the liberal secular ideology of the west doesn't satisfactory answer the question 'Who am I...?', if one answers I am a ‘liberal’, then what does this mean? it means a state of nothingness, you are no one and are supposed to consider person of every other identification, let it racial, ethnic, religious, national to be worthy of equal respect. This takes the liberal to nowhere... leaving a void in his life which was previously filled by religion, but which is now filled by advertisements, movies, 3D computer games (or those played at other gaming consoles)... it is obvious the imaginary personification received through these channels is to unreal to be true... however technology with its editing ability has allowed such people in identity depravation, to alter their self-presentation online to bring it closer to the unreal ideals in their minds...

But if you do this then this is not you, suggests Turkle, this is an edited version of you deceptively assuming to be the actual one... while online, perhaps we interact with not real people, but with their edited versions, while not knowing who the actual person is... Turkle suggests that this is unnatural, as human relationships are inclusive of shortcomings we have… in genuine relationships we accept each other along with those shortcomings, not by excluding them... once his happens, true companionship is experienced, we experience acceptance as the person who cares & loves us accepts us with all our shortcomings ... however this is not the case when online, where we restrict our presentation therefore... therefore can never get rid of the feeling of loneliness... however not knowing the true root cause, we might immerse ourselves deeper into that online world, while assuming that we are not connected well enough thanks to loneliness feeling...

Whats the way out... keeping in view the root cause at ideological levels, it is necessary that we define ourselves aptly so that we may feel less dependent on technology to define ourselves... The case in point is of Tableeghi Jamat, world largest Islamic missionary organization operating on voluntary basis; their members, who identify themselves as Dawee, Musalman, Abid, Ashraful-Makhluqat, Gulaman-e-Rasool s.a.w etc (and they don't know the term identity crisis), when go out on feild trips (seh'roza, chil'la, etc) they don't take cell phones along with them, and they never experience any kind of loneliness thanks to the genuine human interaction which they experience all across... seeing is believing...

A short term solution would be less usage of technology invented in societies which enshrines materialistic & individualistic values, and looking back toward our traditional landscape to learn how people interacted  & lived togather in communal harmony, so as to reconstruct the social fabric we once had, which otherwise would soon become part of fairy tales... a long term solution would be perhaps more complex, i.e. reinvention of technology keeping in view the traditional value system and norms, but that thought is more like science fiction... however letting our lives transformed by a technology designed to feed itself while exploiting and increasing our vulnerabilities and depdendence on it in a vicisous circle, is not a way forwad for sure.

Author is an academic researcher, author, social entrepreneur, philinthropist, trainer, mentor, holds voluntary positions of Sr. Ed Critic Mag, Vice President GEAR ( and tweets @javaidomar

1 comment:

  1. "If found following suggestions on a website:

    1. Experiment with short periods of inaccessibility. Your life won't implode, Ferriss says. "As with any addiction, there is a period of withdrawal and anxiety."

    2. Leave your cell phone and PDA at home one day a week. Saturday is a good day to cut off email and cell phone usage. "For most people, it will feel like a two-week vacation," Ferriss says. "The psychological recovery it offers is pretty unbelievable."

    3. Set a "not-to-do list." Don't check email before 10 a.m. to avoid immediate reactive mode, Ferriss suggests. Set intervals to check email, for example, at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Use an auto-responder to explain that you can be reached any time on your cell phone.

    4. Eliminate rather than streamline whenever possible. Lose the RSS feeder, Ferriss says. "If you have an addictive impulse with tools, lose the tool," he says.

    5. Hire a virtual assistant. "A big part of priority management is teaching others tasks," he says. "A big part is getting over yourself. You don't have a superhuman email checking ability."

    6. Buddy up. Don't go it alone on the road to recovery, Hallowell says, because you're likely to revert to your old habits. Ask a colleague, administrative assistant, or spouse to help you enforce the new rules.

    7.Learn moderation. "I'm not anti-technology," Hallowell says. "Some is good for you, but too much is really, really bad."



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