My lament on the Loss of Human Connection in the 21st Century

Writing letters is my favourite form of expression. I wrote this piece early last year (2016) to a close friend lamenting about Loss of Human Connection thanks to modern-day Technology and ruminating about our collective responsibility as the Millennial Generation to define online culture and ethics. Please read and leave a comment on what you think has led to the loss of human connection as we know it.

Hi Friend,

II write to you, more as a way to write to myself. I need answers to some questions and I think you’re the only one who can help me with it as I see myself in you in so many ways. There’s much to learn when you immerse yourself in a different culture. Over the two years that I’ve been here (read: New York, US), there’s one thing that has made me wonder about the state of affairs – loss of human connection.

I’ve always looked for interesting people. People who are open to thoughts, are not afraid to question, those who break boundaries not for the sake of breaking boundaries but more in an effort to create something more evolved. They exist. I know they do. But why do I get the sense that they hold themselves back? They don’t want to be laughed at. They don’t want to show what they really believe. Why is everyone so hell bent on fitting in? I don’t understand this contradictory messaging that we are bombarded with every day.

You look at billboards, social conversations in different formats and almost every other brand or social influencer asks you to be different, embrace your individuality, break stereotypes etc. And then you meet someone face to face, and they do the exact opposite. There’s a want to be something but no effort to go in that direction.

Human connection… There’s that ultimate core need for each individual to know why they exist on this planet. I love knowing that there’s a community of physicists, scientists, astronomers, mathematicians who have dedicated their lives to solving these fundamental mysteries of life. They have a great purpose. But what about the rest of us – who haven’t figured out how to answer this question for ourselves at a personal level?

I see it every day. That sinking feeling that engulfs a person when they lose their sense of purpose momentarily, temporarily or even permanently.

Image Credit: Franz Josef, New Zealand, Karan Mankodi.

Image Credit: Franz Josef, New Zealand, Karan Mankodi.

And they find it, eventually, if they try. Some find it in family, some find it in their professional lives and some find it through love. They find that connection.

What happens when someone is unable to find a connection? Someone must’ve thought – “What if I could push a button and find a soulmate [Replace this word with anything you’d ever want]?” And voila, you have technology!

There’s an app to find love, jobs, pet sitters, baby sitters, sperm donors, best friends, food, coffee, diapers, waxing services, you name it. If there isn’t, then I’m sure a host of people have conceived that idea and some of them are working on it as I type this.

You’d imagine that automating everything we want would make our lives easier. Rationally, an easier life is a better life. That should imply that a better life is a happier one? It makes sense, doesn’t it? But as I’ve been on both sides of the globe, the East and the West, it makes me believe that it’s not true. Even if we solved every possible problem in our lives either at an individual or on a global scale, we’ll still find a way to be unhappy or dissatisfied.

No one’s life is perfect. There are only two types of happy people – one’s who pretend to be happy because they want to project that to the world in order to gain some sort of social validation and the other set which are happy because they concluded that it’s a better individual mental state to be in. Both of them define their own state of “happy”.

There’s a whole industry which is invested in defining, contributing, communicating this definition of Happiness. Advertising. Ever since I set foot in this industry, I knew it early on that this is a critical mantle of human responsibility that every person in this industry should embrace with honor. This simple thought kept me going. I could’ve done something else… Anything that I wanted to do, really. But I thought this was important. It sounds ridiculous, right?

There’s an overarching message of consumption that the industry promotes because Advertising means you help businesses grow by increasing their bottom line sales by orchestrating a non-existent need or want in the consumer. That’s how everyone in the industry gets a stable paycheck. What if we started doing the opposite - “Consume only as much as you need or don’t buy this if you don’t need it or this is injurious to your mental and physical well-being or you’re nuts to be buying this sub-standard product which might be a carcinogen and we have no proof but that’s what this unverified research report from 1960s says”. Preposterous, right?

At some point or the other everyone has to fight that inner battle of dharma versus karma. Karma is money for client. Dharma is telling the right message to the audience (which would involve not cheating them). More often than not, the short cut is/has been/will be chosen. What if one led to the other? What if one didn’t have to compromise between karma and dharma? I got into the Data Analytics game thinking all of that. I thought that if there was a possibility that I could convince someone with real fact-based numbers to do the right thing then I’ll do that. Right thing – that’s subjective.

But I digress, the point is that there is a loss of human connection. I have no research to prove what the cause is but based on my intuition and the patterns recognized by my un-patented neural connection-based algorithm of a real brain – Consumerism, Technology and high emphasis on Materialism have led to loss of human connection. And no medicine or app or product in the world can change that or make it better for you unless you understand how to make it work for you.

If you want human connection, you can’t dream about it or wait for a match on some app to change it for you. As much as I love technology, I know that it is only a facilitator. The moment I make it my life or run my life based on technology, everything is screwed.

I’m so afraid, one day, we will simply stop talking to one another because it’ll be easier to type and say things. Because it will be important to track every possible conversation so we’ll end up losing our voice altogether. I’ve done that too many a times… refused to answer calls and texted instead. (But I’ve changed that. I don’t even reply to texts now. Evolution, right?)

Why do we hide behind our screens? ­­ If there’s something that you’re saying online which you can’t say in person, you’re doing something wrong. How do we bridge this gap between the real world and the virtual world? Is virtual reality the answer?

Our parents taught us how to behave with people in person. They didn’t get the opportunity to teach us how to behave online. And now here, this generation has the unsurmountable task of defining online culture. So maybe we should use it responsibly. We should be humbler… more real.

This should be a part of classroom education now – how and how much to use online communication and instant messaging ethically; so that future generations are not socially impaired. So when they meet each other face to face, they know what to speak and they don’t hide their personalities. So they have realistic expectations from the world around them. So that if they are disappointed they don’t end up going down the misguided road.

If we want to be happy, we should embrace failures. Welcome pain in our life in every format. When something terrible happens, accept it for what it is. Without ruminating on inconsequential possibilities (unless those possibilities are going to change your situation for the better) or seeking that solace through other means or finding some short-cut solution. I was taken aback when I heard of this app or website which helps people in trouble through online communication. Are we as a society that afraid to deal with our demons or publicly accept that we have a problem? We are more comfortable broadcasting our emotions in the virtual online world than with our immediate circle of people? Do you see why we feel a higher disconnect or am I barking against the wrong tree?

Why do we shy away from melancholy?

Image credit: Tushar Panchal

Image credit: Tushar Panchal

With technology our lives do become easier, there is growth and progress but I’m afraid that it also has led to some sort of cultural degradation where we pay so much attention to what is popular that we forget what is important. We forget why we are here. We forget why we do what we are doing. And I know I’m not the only one who senses that but are we doing anything as a collective consciousness to change or improve that?

Why can’t we breathe a little before we push that button or hit send? What kind of existence is this where we refuse to pause and take a few extra seconds to think, to have a valid reason to do anything, to pause and reflect how any decision will have a ripple effect?

Without purposeful action, there’s only emptiness and loss of human connection.

Anyway, I’m going nuts, right?

Yours truly,

A very curious Prachi Gohil