The greatest casualty in this, the war between the offline and the online is that of attention.
On my birthday this year, I literally received thousands of messages wishing me a happy birthday. Because I am a trifle OCD about this, I spent the better part of the next couple of days individually thanking those who had wished me. The calls I received to wish me a happy birthday I could count on my fingers. I am grateful for those calls; they reassure me that beyond the blinking facelessness of a screen, real people still connect with each other.
Social media is perhaps the biggest boon and the biggest bane to us all at once. It connects us. It disconnects us. It works in ways we yet have to understand fully. We are dear friends with folks we have barely met, sometimes, folks we've only interacted with on the online space. And we seem to barely connect with the ones we know offline. We have real-life friends and online friends, and sometimes the twain do meet. Offline and online are blurring, sometimes in a good way and sometimes in not so good a way.
The need to voice one’s opinion, document the moment online seems to take precedence over savouring the moment, being in the moment. The need to be visible in the online space is diminishing our visibility in the offline space. We spend less time with people. We might be physically present with them, but all our attention is sucked by the blinking one-eyed device of Mammon, which compels us to pay attention to it with its constant pinging and notifications.
This being connected 24 x 7 is a boon and a bane. I confess to being guilty of this myself. It is a habit I am trying hard to wean myself off. Giving someone I am sitting with my complete attention without being tempted to check blinking phone notifications is my next life target.
Now, connecting with people is a Whatsapp message, a Facebook like, a tweet fave away. While this does put accessibility to anyone in the world at one's fingertips, what does this augur for personal interactions? What about face to face time? What about listening to someone's voice, seeing their expressions change, feeling their presence? What about that very prosaic thing, we've left behind in our quest to get more and more connected, namely paying attention?
The greatest casualty in this, the war between the offline and the online is that of attention. This hits hard when you see a group of friends, or even family gathered in a room.
In all likelihood, while a couple might be engrossed in conversation, more likely than not, most would have their eyes glued to their smart phones, in parallel worlds which do not intersect. The physical distance might be that of a few steps, but emotionally, they are chasms apart.
Paradoxically, social media is slowly, insidiously, helping us build silos around ourselves while connecting us to the world, silos where we can choose to retreat in order to interact virtually only with those we choose to. More often than not, these are people we might never ever see in the real world. The disconnect is now. We disconnect from the moment in the real world and switch to the moment in the online space.
Perhaps this is why I feel that the meetings with people one truly cares about are the ones where one doesn’t feel the need to Click-post or it didn’t happen. And that, sometimes, what happens in the offline space must be allowed to stay in the offline space, because living one’s life online can, in the end, leave the offline rather bereft of human company. And sometimes, we need to disconnect from the online in order to reconnect with the ones who really matter. In the offline.
(Kiran Manral has published eight books. She is a TEDx speaker, mentor and a columnist. She also spends more time on social media than is healthy)