Connectivity and Connectedness

I wrote this post a really long time ago (which you’ll be able to tell from the outdated references). But I think it still holds true, even more today than earlier. So what say? Are we spiralling into a world of isolation while living in an illusion of connectedness?


I was one of the laggard consumers in the mobile phone market. For the 18-odd months I watched a new trend pick up among my family and friends, knowing that I’d have to pick it up eventually and resisting simply from force of habit. I went from nonchalance to mild curiosity to irritation to sheer resignation and finally compliance.

I particularly remember taking a bus home after class with a friend. The journey lasted an hour for me, an hour-and-half for her. She had a book, I had a walkman, the city was flying past and we had each other for company with a dayful of youthful events to discuss. But the better part of that time would be spent on missed-call tags, SMSing, an occasional game and sundry phone-fiddling – all hers on her newly acquired cellphone. Our conversation was peppered and then punctured with these interruptions often. I distinctly remember this one habit as a point of reference for change. It changed the equation of our friendship (always based on conversation – the volume and content of it), it altered the way I related to her and to myself.

In my mind, the start of the revolution in India is symbolized by an early Nokia advertisement showing a South East-Asian woman sitting on a campus lawn and strumming a guitar while her friend held up the mobile phone to her lips

Happy birthday to Grandpa
Happy birthday to you.

Nokia – connecting people.

Of course everyone remembers the days when a single call would cost Rs.16 a minute and you also had to pay for the privelege of receiving calls. But perhaps not. The teen-somethings that are the key interest group for mobile phone manufacturers would have been kids at that time and possibly not conscious of the financial implications of the then-current trends. Well kids, it’s true then – there was a time when a mobile phone was a luxury, not a vital necessity.

Mobile phone prices dropped, service providers undercut each other in a bid to woo the new market and Reliance put the world in everyone’s hands. We’ve neatly bypassed pagers and evolved to where a mobile phone becomes an extension of ourselves.

Covers, wallpapers, screensavers, ringtones and caller tunes allow us to give our beepers a sense of our identity. Games and other value-added services keep us tap-tapping busy. The limits of connectedness keep getting pushed furthur. First it was SMS for the type-happy folks, then Voicemail so we could do more than the bland ‘missed call’. Missed call alerts let us stay connected even when we were not. Connectivity itself is being redefined and re-redefined with Bluetooth, GPRS, moblogging, tweeting and what not.

7 years have got me through mobile phones and more. But I am still wondering – are we really more connected?

I have an office number, a home number and a mobile phone (SMS, Voicemail, GPRS, Bluetooth et al). I can even communicate with any number of people through a single SMS thanks to Twitter.

My contacts list follows a complex filing system- Family, School, College, Colleagues, Clients (A, B, C), Bloggers, Tweeple, Hobbyists (Community A, Forum B, Group C) and Friends.  I just realised that I’ve started compartmentalizing my conversations as well.

Morning before train is an open slot meant for urgent messages only.

Morning on train is SMSspace thanks to errant voice networks. Alternately two calls can be fitted here with a break for the voice drop mid-line.

Morning after train is for issuing and confirming social invitations, evening events and weekend plans. The duration is perfect and it is fitting to be able to say “Just getting in to work. I’ll check my schedule and let you know.”

Email and Twitter during the day, in work breaks.

Post-lunch phone call to close friends in other cities. The pseudo-relaxed time is the only slot for those kind of conversations.

Tea-time email/Twitter/SMS/Phone call on a light day to confirm plans.

Evening on-the-way to catch up on missed calls, unreplied SMSes and broken conversations.

Night-way-home is an open slot for long, involved conversations on relationships, work tangles and family issues.

And then it suddenly makes sense to me that urban society is suddenly a collective-manic-depressive, oscillating from an unnatural obsession with connectedness and a near-suicidal impulse to disconnect completely. It might help to remember that with any level of connectivity, each of us still has only 24 hours in a day and a finite level of brain/tongue capacity.

I don’t think we are more connected to each other. Connectedness and isolation have to exist in a certain balance at all time. All that has happened is that the balance has gone from a controlled plug in/out grid to a shifting shapeless form where multiple connection points are possible. So the probability of being connected is higher but that of being disconnected is, as well. What’s more, it may be possible to predict where and when the next level of connectivity may come from. Sadly the same can’t be said yet about disconnectedness.

Plugged-in but not connected – Is that true of you?

8 thoughts on “Connectivity and Connectedness

  1. ‘out of sight, out of mind’ has usually been true for me in the past. No longer. I am someone who tends to keep to myself, so it applies to me all the more. I did not spend time painfully keying in smses. I was never on the phone for hours every day, and thankfully, I still carry an ancient phone which limits me to what the phone was once meant to be.

    Where I really saw change is in the new web. I even resisted the social media wave. I was never on Orkut and till date, I am not active on twitter. But facebook has given me a feeling of connected with everyone. Logging in a few times a day tells me what is everyone upto, and sometimes it helps me connect without having to actually make a conversation.

  2. hehe it reminded me of a time when to contact my friend i had to call a paging service, who would send my message to my friend’s friend ..damn :).True we just have 24 hours to stay connected and a limit to our tongue and brain :D. I realized that i was spending too much time on being connected through technology and not meeting the real people. So i decided it was time to go out and meet some real friends. So i unplugged 😀

  3. Thankfully no.. 🙂
    To this day, I do not do anything on my phone when I have a person in front of me, be it an acquaintance or a best friend.
    I do not rely on FB or Orkut to maintain my relationships either.. Twitter is waaay out of question..

  4. A very very interesting post indeed. I agree with your views on how the mobile/cell-phone has invaded life and cut-down on physically talking to each other.
    On the other hand, it has allowed us to reach more people. So it’s a very fine line indeed. Nice mobile schedule there!

  5. nice Posting. I just starting with Internet. My parents didn’t allow me this, before I was 16 years old. It’s very nice, becaus now can I improve my English language.

    Cora from Frankfurt in Germany

  6. Discovered this blog through Indiblogger. It’s a great blog and I am wondering why I didn’t come across it before! I love the design too. And this post connected with me! I agree with all that you said, and as you went on the memories of the time when cell phones first came to India came back. I remember that people would use the cell as some sort of status symbol, until the sabzi wallas got it too!
    And I think that today we are more isolated than ever before. That is why I haven’t bumped into you at some party or gathering, that is why I am commenting on your blog and that of others, that is why we use machines to communnicate. We human beings are a lost race today because face to face we don’t want to connect, not in big cities anyway.

  7. @Arun: I guess connectivity has certainly bridged the gaps of introversion. I was looking at the other end of the spectrum, which is the one I usually inhabit…the hyperconnected, over-updated, information overload side. There’s a crash happening out there.

    @aniruddha: It’s a soul-fulfiling experience, isn’t it? Strange, I used to wonder at people who went ‘slumming’ or gave up luxuries to experience the real world. Somehow I’ve turned into a version of that over-priveleged world where I’ve to consciously cut out what’s pleasurable to experience something real.

    @ Ms Taggart: You’re one of those few, really few people who understand that there’s phone etiquette too. I don’t really think Twitter or Facebook are ‘bad’ but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. See Arun’s comment above – social media has certainly made it possible to create and sustain a connection where none may have been possible earlier. It’s the excessiveness that I have a problem with.

    @Sid: Thank you! The mobile schedule has gone out of the window since I took a break from work (thank my stars!) 😀

    @Cora: Welcome to The Idea-smithy then! The Internet can be a lovely place but it also has some strange and potentially dangerous people around. Do be careful about sharing your personal information, photos etc online and also who you get friendly with. All the best!

    @teendudes: Absolutely!

    @Nita: And thank you for coming to The Idea-smithy (finally!!). Actually with the whole social media phenomenon, there is a slight mingling of the online and offline world so it is possible to connect up with people in the real world. If you ever attend a barcamp, blogcamp or tweetup, we might bump into each other. It will be good to talk face-to-face.

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