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In praise of connectivity

by The Concordian September 6, 2011
“CUT!” yells a man with long blond hair from behind a TV monitor. “We’ll do another one,” he says to an even blonder woman in a leopard print dress, giving her instructions for the next take.
The gentleman in question is directing the latest episode of an avant-garde cooking show. If there is one thing his crew loves to do between takes, it is pulling out their smartphones to tweet, read the news or send out feelers for their next gigs.
“I can’t do Monday but I’ll definitely be there Tuesday,” says Sandra, the shoot’s petite but fiery makeup artist, into her iPhone. She hangs up and promptly logs into Facebook to peruse the dozen friend requests she has received since last being on the site.
Over by the tripod, the director of photography has one hand on the camera while the other taps out a response on a message board with his phone. The gaffer is reading up on track and field results. “Reset!” cries out the director and all the smartphones are quietly pocketed as the crew begins preparing for the next take.
This is the world of smartphones: constant connectivity with other human beings and the world in the palm of your hand. There are many naysayers who feel such constant contact is detrimental to society by making people less sociable. Two things can be said in response to that.
Firstly: individuals are responsible for their own actions. Having a smartphone gives you the option to be “plugged in” but it does not make it mandatory. A tool is only as good as its wielder. Getting spammed about male enhancement supplements? Put a filter on your email settings. Got a text or call from someone you are not keen to respond to? Don’t respond!
This may seem to be antisocial, but it leads to my second point: the nature of socialization is changing. In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam’s elegiac study of the supposed decline of social participation in the United States, the author laments “the more that my activities depend on the actions of others, the greater the drop-off in my participation.”
However, interaction is not diminishing; it is changing with the times. Online social networks do not mean people just stay at home glued to their computers or walk down the street myopically focused on their iPhones. They allow for like-minded individuals to come together in ways that would have been impossible before mobile Internet.
Think of people in Egypt naming their children Facebook due to the key role ascribed to the website in the toppling of the Mubarak regime. The name may strike one as incongruous, but what of people with family names like Smith, Miller, and Archer? They all have roots in some form of technology used by their ancestors. Those movements could have sprung up offline, but online social networks facilitated co-ordination with a speed undreamed of.
But if you feel like you need to be “off the grid,” bloody well switch off! You are the one with the power.

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