Posted by: patenttranslator | April 29, 2017

The Connectivity Illusion

I discovered the wonderful world of smart phones and apps when I bought an iPad a few years ago and then an iPhone a couple years later. These dangerously addictive gadgets started rearranging my daily routine pretty quickly.

The one thing that I have in common with about a billion people on this planet is that the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is reach for my phone, even before I get out of bed.

I use the bank app to check my balance and deposit checks. I look at social media apps frequently in all kind of places, such as when I am waiting in line at the cash register, and some of them I allow to push through their very important messages. For some reason, I need to know immediately when people living on another continent, whom I will most likely never meet in person, say what they had for dinner on Facebook.

And other people waiting in front of me and behind me often keep looking at their silly cell phones too.

I usually start watching Netflix movies on my phone. If I like what I see, the film will graduate to the big screen TV, if not, it will die a humiliating death in midstream.

And of course, the map applications on my iPhone (I have two of them), although they sometimes take me to the wrong location, have saved my life more than once, such as that time when more than just a little inebriated from imbibing too much beer in the afternoon and wine in the evening, I navigated darks streets in a French city that I didn’t know so as to get to my hotel in one piece after 2 AM when taxis were no longer available.

The interconnectivity of our world is wonderful. It started with doing things on the internet and talking on cell phones a few decades ago, followed by taking orders from the GPS boss and other connectivity tools that were going to bring us closer to each other.

But did this instant connectivity work the way it was supposed to?

A century ago, before there was TV, people who lived in the same house, people like husbands, wives and children, used to talk to each other a lot because there was not much else to do but either read a book or talk to each other. Sometimes whole families would play music on musical instruments together.

Or people listened to the radio together, but generally they used to have something to say to each other every now and then. Nowadays, there are usually several TVs in most houses so that everybody can watch a different program without being interrupted and inconvenienced by what other people living in the same house want to watch.

A quarter century ago, before the internet, people would actually have to go to a real place to be able to talk to each other. Now they don’t have to go anywhere, so they don’t.

I remember when I lived in San Francisco a quarter century ago, local translators would get together for impromptu meetings dedicated to interesting subjects, such as the perennially interesting subject of translation rates, or the indescribably glorious difficulties of translating Chinese poetry.

And then we would go to a Thai, Vietnamese or Korean restaurant (where I would usually have a bibimbap and a beer.)

Those real meetings of real people were so much fun back when people used to still meet in person – so much better than Skype, Facebook and Twitter combined.

With the old style of personal interactions, people used to be able to take in and get a sense of the whole person they were talking to, to see what they looked like and hear how they sounded; they could create a complete image in their mind of the whole person.

There are clairvoyant persons among us, and a significant percentage of us are equipped with extrasensory abilities, except those who are slaves to their apps, of course. Some extraordinary people are almost as intuitive as dogs!

Back when we still used to meet real people instead of just texting them on apps, the gifted among us could make pretty accurate predictions based on what they saw, heard, and felt, which is very useful for instance in terms of avoiding liaisons with people who might be ax murderers, an imperceptible personality flaw that can be usually intuited only on a subconscious level.

Little pictures called emoticons (what a silly word) were invented to ensure that we will not be misunderstood. We have to make sure that our interlocutors on various apps will understand that what we just said, I mean typed, was meant as a joke. Otherwise our app partners would never get that we were joking!

A blog gives us much more information about who the blogger really is. It used to be said that eyes were the window into another person’s soul. Now, we don’t get to see the eyes of the other person, and the blog became an ersatz window into another person’s soul.

For instance, if you read my blog with some regularity, you must know by now that I’m crazy.

The truth is, the internet, blogs and apps have only given us the illusion of being connected to each other. We can now connect to each other very easily, but in contrast to how people were connected to each other a few decades or centuries ago, modern connections are so mono-dimensional and colorless that they’ve become … dare I say it? … meaningless.

When I went to a translators’ conference not long ago, I met some of the actual human beings that I have been connecting and communicating with on the internet through my blog and social media for at least a couple of years, for the first time in person.

I was looking at the faces, thinking to myself: OK, so this must be so-and-so, and she actually does look exactly like the picture on the app. And this guy is in reality even more complicated than what I thought based on our conversations online. It was so nice to know for sure that these people actually do exist.

When film directors want to indicate to viewers that the story has suddenly moved back in time by several decades, they often switch from vibrant colors to a black-and-white reality as if events that happened long time ago occurred in a world that lacked colors.

But could it be that the opposite is true? Could it be that there were much more vivid colors and many more melodious sounds and sweet fragrances in the pre-digital world when people had to rely on their own senses and use their own brains, before they started being fed meaningless preprocessed and prepackaged information and then emoticoned to death?

No, it is not true that, unlike the present, the past was black and white. The opposite is true. As we grow old, the colors fade, until in the end we are surrounded by total darkness just before the plug is pulled and we become permanently disconnected.


  1. Here’s Wishing You a Well-Deserved Great Last Day of April 🙂


    • Thank you, Michal, same to you!

      It was 93 degrees here today, humidity 65% to about 80%. Same thing tomorrow. But I am doing fine, lying on a sofa reading a book, a Beethoven symphony on my radio station, not sure which one.

      Whoever invented air conditioning was the greatest genius of all times!


  2. Hi Steve. I think so much about this and sometimes would like to air my ideas with friends but somehow feel inadequate, that I am going to be perceived as a technophobe (which I am not, as many people I see technology as a tool not a way of life) who likes to whine about the inevitable (technology taking over human skills, relationships, instincts). Without trying to sound hippie-ish (but maybe doing so) I feel so liberated and alive when I am doing something such as walking on the beach (I live in a coastal town) or anywhere surrounded by nature, having a coffee with a friend without cell phone interruptions, etc, things which I used to take for granted and now are somehow luxuries when you have the world, experiences and communication at your fingertips. Even watching TV now feels more ‘natural’ and low tech! I miss long phone calls and conversations that have a beginning and an end (how many times I am ‘talking’ to a friend on a messenger, or WhatsApp and the conversation is left midway). I sometimes feel that my relationship to close friends have become more distant not because I am away from where they are but because we now have become ‘public’ individuals, we don’t share things with friends and family like before, we make impersonal announcements on social media to whomever is on our contacts list, we air our opinions all the time and very seldom really exchange anything. We have become minor celebrities, gazing at our own navel most of the time. I

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you are luckier than you realize, Daniela.

    I would not mind living in a coastal town in Portugal, surrounded by nature, taking long walks on the beach, talking to friends sitting at the same table in a cafe.

    Instead, I live in suburban America, listening to deafening noise of law mowers every Saturday morning. Instead of cafes, we have Starbucks here and if I want to get to a beach, I have to drive 40 minutes.

    I envy you.

    We just have to make sure that technology is our servant, instead of allowing other people to use technology to turn us into their slaves.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Excellent post Steve. I am actually seen as a black sheep from my generation: I’m 35 years old and have refused to ever have a cell phone, because A) I don’t feel like feeding my local telecom company to provide me with futile gadgets that I can already find on the internet B) don’t feel like receiving phone calls day and night (I don’t receive that many on my land-line anyway) and C) I am not all that active on social media because I realize that it’s just a waste of time (I’d rather watch a good movie or listen to music). I am however able to recognize that the internet is an amazing tool, if well used. I once heard, not long ago, that the most successful of people are the ones that consider the internet as a nicety and not a necessity (I love that image). Too bad for all the rest who have become conditioned by digital dependence. There even exist camps where people go to “disconnect” from the digital world, like drug addicts who are experiencing symptoms of withdrawal…. This last example gives us a good portrait of the extent to which society has become digitally dependent on instant gratification delivered by social media, apps and what not…

    Liked by 2 people

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