Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Age of Disconnect

We live in the age of disconnect. Cell phones, internet, social networking, technologies designed for the purpose of bringing people together are subtly tearing us apart. (Many readers, who like myself, spend far too much time playing with their smart phone and fiddling on Facebook, are already thinking of a rebuttal to this post).

This epiphany came to me after a four hour long experience with T-mobile’s customer service. In this time I had to re-explain my situation three times as I was juggled between employees, I was called a liar—or told that my wife is a liar rather—and ended the conversation with nothing resolved and my Saturday afternoon wasted. At some point in the conversation I asked the person his name which he said he couldn’t give (yet he had all my information right there in front of him) and I filed a complaint (the only form of accountability I could think of). Once the conversation ended I vented to my wife for an hour and am just starting to cool down as I sit to write this post. Would I have been treated this way if I were talking to this person face-to-face? I’m sure we’ve all had an experience similar to the one I just described.

Studies have shown that a person’s personality changes when they are wearing a mask. My parents would never let me wear masked Halloween costumes and I had to settle for the Batman costume that looked more like a bonnet. Masks are no longer limited to costumes and the new villains are people like telemarketers and cyber bullies.

I watched a really good movie recently called Up in the Air. You may have seen it, George Clooney, 2009 best picture nomination? The main character is one of those old timers who is disconnected the old fashioned way: leaving home on business trips and accumulating frequent flyer miles. His job is to fly all around the country to lay people off. His company has decided to meld into the digital age. A young woman, fresh out of college, spear heads a new development in which the employees no longer have to travel, but instead lay people off through online video chat. Could you imagine being fired by some stranger on the internet?! Now that’s disconnect. I won’t spoil the rest of the movie for anyone (it’s lovely), but thought this transition between the old way of being disconnected and our new way was profound.

Where is our brave new world headed (yeah I just used the title of this blog to cheese-ify this post)? I notice that my online interactions can very easily take a wrong turn as strangers argue about touchy subjects like politics, religion, and basketball (I guess it’s redundant to mention basketball having already mentioned religion). Will the World of Warcraft turn out to be a foreshadow of our future? Or are movies like Avatar or Surrogates better indicators?

Let’s do ourselves a favor and turn these trends around. We can rebuild our social capital by getting to know our neighbors, limiting our time on social networking sites, or giving someone a hug. I tend to believe that small changes, while inconvenient, can go a long way.


After note: Melanie called customer service and got the whole mess resolved within half an hour. Does that discredit this whole idea? Haha, at least I feel better.

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