On Isolation and Ngiri

A few months ago, I sat down at a sushi bar, a newspaper in one hand and Blackberry in the other. I was reading both at the same time, of course.

I looked up and saw my female Bizarro, reading her Blackberry and sifting through some printed emails. Our eyes met ever so briefly, and we quickly resumed the social norm of looking busy in public.

Ah, awkward conversation, I miss thee so.

The problem occurred to me that the only problem that occurred to me is we were both using Blackberries that were two years old and staring at stuff printed on dead trees. Obviously, two young professionals in Palo Alto should have been using iPhones and iPads. I’ve since remedied my own anachronistic situation.

Upon further reflection, I bear deep sadness about the broader cultural challenge represented by the brief, knowing glance we shared. Her little smile said to me, “Boy, it sure is good we’re busy people preoccupied with gadgets and an endless stream of news and data, otherwise we’d have to make uncomfortable conversation.”

I lament the lost art of uncomfortable conversation.

Technology enables great things, obviating once cumbersome tasks, streamlining complicated processes, and entertaining us with an ease my generation once only dreamed of, and not so long ago. It also cripples human discourse.

Over the holidays, I sat next to my parents, unsure of what to say, nervously fidgeting with my phone the entire time. Once enough guilt mounted, I set the phone down and stared straight ahead for what seemed like hours. I then resumed obsessive scanning of Twitter feeds, work emails, news flow, and nonexistent texts from my ex.

The advent of technology has allowed truth to exist in the extreme. Now a mature youngish man raised on Atari 2600 and full of inspired desperation, I can truly focus my energies and mold my ideas into relevant messages delivered to the masses with a few keystrokes. However, no journal, blog, memoir, or autobiography can ever be believed to be true. Technology makes it too easy to go back and tinker and embellish. Everything in the future will be novelized. The first sentence of this paragraph is a lie.

I will thus endeavor in 2011 not to shun my beloved gadgets but to augment them with genuine personal contact with fellow sentient beings.

I will knock on my new neighbor’s door. What should I say? Hell, I don’t know. Ask for some sugar? I think I saw someone do that in a YouTube clip I streamed on my iPad while waiting for a flight and avoiding conversation with the woman next to me.

And then rather than calling a friend to discuss the great calamity, I blogged about it to a bunch of pixilated heads and baby photos on Facebook.

I’m making dreadful little progress.

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3 thoughts on “On Isolation and Ngiri

  1. People are infinitly more intriguing to me than tech gadgets…but long ago, in a far-away-world, I used to work in sales, and my income was dependant upon my innate ability to distract someone from their own discomfort with human discourse. I learned it is remarkably easy to do! People light right up when you make a witty comment or ask a simple question. It felt to me as if the WHOLE WORLD was full of frightened or shy people just waiting for someone to get a conversation started with them! Strangers almost always counter-engaged.

    I agree with you on the whole “lies” thing…we can tweak our memories to best suit our own interests of the moment. Then re-tweak later, when our self-perception and ego requires an ‘update’. Oh, so trendy we all are!

    -Silky

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