It is puzzling, even perplexing. How can people be more connected than at any other time in human history, yet live and work in such a disconnected manner?
Sociologist Manuel Castells describes the Information Age as the era of the “network society,” a time of global interdependence due to cellphones, iPads, the Internet, social media, and information communication and collaboration systems, among other computer-based technology. Self-organization is much easier and can take place in a more spontaneous fashion.
As long as you are “in the digital network,” where ever you are, your family members, friends and colleagues are also there. Unknowingly, strangers you may or may not want to meet are also there.
The latest movie, Disconnect, takes viewers on a journey into today’s complex “connected society,” and raises questions about the dark side of modern technology’s ubiquitous integration into everyday life. Though networked 24/7/365 are we actually living “disconnected”? As MIT culture and technology professor Sherry Turkle states, are we “alone together”?
The movie explores three intertwined stories with technology as a main character, an actor that both enhances and harms, connects and disconnects. The modern tales are about cyber bullying where the teens involved think they are just being playful, Internet sex sites where men and women sell themselves so they can “be taken care of,” and a grieving couple seeking comfort from strangers in a chat room only to find their computer has been hacked, identity stolen and saving’s account emptied.
While the movie illustrates the pros and cons, the advantages and dangers of digital technology, it raises critical questions about the nature of human connection in the modern world. We are challenged to honestly look at our current lifestyle in light of how technological devises are changing who we are, and how we relate to and treat each other.
Though physically in the same location, we often are not present to those with us or what is taking place around us. Though we are constantly chatting with others, many unconsciously live estranged from their families, neighbors and work colleagues. Though we live in “electronically armed” homes and work in buildings with “security” guards, we are more vulnerable than ever before.
Technology is a double-edged sword, making one’s livelihood better while simultaneously causing one to distance him/herself from others. People are connected but not present.
Digital communication and social media can:
- Foster one to become a workaholic;
- Cause one to be less cautious and more trusting of strangers;
- Enable one to be able to hide his/her identity and intentions by hijacking another’s computer system;
- Invade other’s lives, steal their identity and funds and destroy their livelihoods; and
- Mask themselves as human-centric cures for loneliness, isolation and separation.
Since technology is intrinsic to today’s way of living and working, how can we “disconnect” in ways so we can authentically “connect” with each other and thus be in meaningful relationships?
A very truly complex challenge with no easy answer.