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Disconnected in a Connected World
Have we lost the ability to speak to each other?
One of my favorite occupations in life is sitting in a local coffee shop, enjoying a large mug of this month’s special bean.
I am there now, people watching and wondering whether we have lost the ability to communicate with each other, without using some device or other. I may be just as guilty, talking to nobody and typing on a keyboard, but hey, I’m on my own, so I’m sure that’s allowed.
Observing people is a favorite pastime and that is what I find myself doing at this moment.
I’m a regular at this coffee shop and there are a handful of familiar faces I see on my almost daily visits. Today, there is a couple sitting across the way who, like me are regulars, seeming to enjoy the atmosphere and the brand of coffee on offer.
What is curious about this couple is, that I have never heard them speak to each other. On the 20-30 occasions we have been there at the same time, not one word has left their lips, other than to order their lattes when they arrive.
They are both in their mid-sixties at a guess and sit next to each other, rather than opposite across the table, where they might accidentally catch each other’s eye.
I’ve had the occasion a couple of times, to stand behind them, while waiting to be served, and have observed their habits. They both have iPads, each propped up with a keyboard. There the similarity ends.
He sits and scrolls through Google News, picking articles of interest and slowly reading them. From my vantage point, now seated with my coffee, I can see him scrolling his finger, tapping the screen, and sometimes using the keyboard to enter a fresh search term.
She also sits with her iPad, but seldom touches the keyboard. Her screen is filled with a version of Tetris and she scoots her fingers across the screen, moving blocks into place. For him, it is always Google News, for her, Tetris.
After both lattes are finished, they seem to communicate telepathically, packing away their tablets, rising from their side-by-side position, and leaving the coffee shop.
In the 40 minutes I have observed them today, neither has spoken a word to the other. It is the same story each time.
How can it be, in a world where we are so interconnected, that this middle-aged, clearly married couple, has nothing to say to each other? Perhaps they have been married for a quarter of a century and everything has been said? Is it their significantly different interest online, Google News vs. Tetris that has driven them apart? What part of culture can bring a couple to sit in a public place and not say a word to each other?
Technology is a wonderful thing and the way we can use the web, apps, and more to explore the world and discovering culture, would be beyond the understating of our grandparents. That said, my father, who is also a great-grandfather at the age of 98, quite happily manages a weekly WhatsApp video call with his eldest grandson in Australia. I digress.
Observing the experience of the couple in the coffee shop, one has to wonder, if it is that very technology, which has driven them apart. Have their interests in hard news and playing an online game, stifled their conversation to such an extent, that in the dozens of times I have encountered them, I am yet to hear either of their voices? They could be deaf or dumb, but then there would be some sort of non-verbal communication such as a hand signal or eye contact.
Online culture has developed in the past 30 years from almost nothing where we excitedly shared the speeds of our new 2,400 baud modem with the whole family, to the point where we seldom communicate.
You just have to look at the younger generations in the very same coffee shop, grouped in a booth together, all holding and using their phones, with little communication between them. Or perhaps, a Mother WhatsApping a child upstairs, that dinner is on the table.
But those stories, are for another day.