Lately when I need to speak with friends, students, or colleagues, I’m confronted with, “Can we Skype or video chat on gmail or Facebook instead?” Just the other day I old friend wanted to speak with me about something important. She and I over the years have tried in vain to meet up even though we are only a few cities away from each other. When we connected on vidchat, it was like no time had passed at all. We found this reconnection so convenient that we swore to do it monthly. This ultimately means a friend I have not seen in five years will have to wait years before we physically occupy the same space.
Similarly, since it’s summer, I’ve been video chatting with my research assistants. One lives only 45 minutes away but we opted for the convenience of chatting. It was interesting. We were discussing serious social movement issues and strategizing for a project. I can only imagine the ideas we would have come up with sitting across from each other at a coffee shop or similar venue. I get animated, often spurring others to also show excitement, then great ideas come forth. We lacked this synergy by using the web. But, at one point, his mom in pajamas appeard onscreen. She asked me what kind of job her son can get with a liberal arts degree. This was beyond comedic, it was a rare window into the personal life of my student. Certainly chances of that happening at a coffee shop would be slim
So, even as I am dubious of opting for video chat, I can see its value. Just this morning, for instance, I video chatted via gmail with my mentor and friend. She lives in NYC and travels constantly. Last I saw her was about a year ago when she had a conference in San Francisco. Chances of us meeting up with each other any time soon are pretty slim. So, seeing her face, smile, gestures, on my computer screen was a joy. Our long conversation finally ended when her adult son claimed he was very hungry. It was past lunchtime for them after all.
Even as a technophile that embraced the Internet since its introduction and found many uses for “social networks” before that word even existed, I try at all cost not to get trapped into a world without physical touch. I fear, as many, that information technology and the proliferation of social networks has turned our populations into laptop drones. We increasingly opt for virtual connections instead of real ones, essentially normalizing alienation.
Maybe I should be reciting this blog post on a soapbox at a nearby campus or even the one that I teach at. No, I’m content to post this on my blog, unable to see the reactions of my readers. At least I’m composing these thoughts in a coffee shop. There is a large window next to me where I can see pedestrians enjoying their summer day as they pass by. Behind me are people practicing Spanish. But, across the table sits my niece using an ipad; she has not put her head up in over an hour. You cannot have it all.