If someone from the 1960s were to visit us today, the first, but not really the only, thing that would blow them away is how well-connected everyone is with everyone and everything else.
We are Facebook friends with people we barely spoke to in high school. We follow celebrities, who don’t know us from Adam, on Twitter. We join online forums and fandoms to discuss intimate details of our interests with like-minded individuals. We give instant feedback about the movies we see or the song that we just heard for the first time. We share photographs from our lives with perfect strangers on photo-sharing websites, hoping to learn some never before understood photography technique. We take seconds to open a browser and search for the information we need. We are able to get “expert” opinions from people on the Internet on whether that soreness in our back is because of sitting too long or is something horrible like a slipped vertebrae.
And yet, we are moving farther away from what defines us as a people.
We are losing touch with doing things just for the fun of doing them. How many of our Facebook friends have said “pictures or it didn’t happen!” for a status update about something amazing that we did? And so we feel obliged to add pictorial evidence of having gone scuba-diving or rock-climbing. Such a fun statement, and yet the sentiment behind that statement reveals an awful undercurrent: if the world doesn’t know what we are doing, we are not doing anything worthwhile.
We are losing our ability to collect, retain, and process information. That Wikipedia page explaining backaches may get us to exclaim “awesome!” but how much of it do we really retain? We read that page, and then go back to sitting on that really horrid couch while slouching in an attempt to get comfortable.
We are growing apart from what connects us with the people around us. No doubt, there is merit in being able to talk to other fans and collectively squee about a book from our favorite author. But the time that we spend on that fandom website is time that we have taken away from the real people around us. Telling 200 Twitter followers that “This new restaurant is a gastronomical delight!” is not quite the same as telling your friends “This new restaurant is amazing, let’s go eat there sometime.” Arguably, you could say that on Twitter, but do you really want a random guy living 5 states away showing up at the restaurant when you are waiting for friends?
We live in a world of information overload. Each one of us feels the need to be connected with the world every hour of every day. None of us can imagine life without updating our Facebook and Twitter feeds with–sometimes irrelevant–information. The question that the guy visiting you from the 1960s is going to ask is: “whatever happened to good old going outside and throwing a ball around with friends?” And that is the question we need to ask ourselves as well.
May be what we need to do, is to take a step back and disconnect from the online world and connect with the real world.