My Voice - 2019


In Defense of our Interconnected World

By Dhruv Pathak

After a long absence from writing in Saathee, I figured I'd make a comeback to address an idea that I have heard hundreds of times but never formally responded to. This idea, to paraphrase: back in my day, we used to have genuine interaction but nowadays kids don't understand how to truly engage with one another.

Seemingly, every person over the age of 40 with a keyboard has spewed their version of this sentiment all over the internet. I was reminded by my mild annoyance with this idea by reading the ever-entertaining Ahsen Jillani in the May 2019 edition of Saathee.

To do his perspective justice here is his quote: “There's just this slight difference: people interacted directly then, and through that you build relationships, a culture, a society; you learn about norms not from Big Media or Fortune 100 agendas but from people around you—the people who are your community. You see, there's a difference between a meme and a conversation or a piece of writing. Witty as some memes are, they are not intellectually complex like writing or verbal engagement."

I did not take issue with the whole article, so I won't be responding but just using this one paragraph to lay the foundation for my perspective.

There are many facts in that paragraph alone, however it is merely one perspective. Facts cannot be expected to prove a point; we must seek truth from facts in all things.

Fact 1: Yes, before the proliferation of cellphones, people did interact directly. However, was that always a good thing? For example, if a young person (by the way I am 25) is looking to court another person and they agreed to meet at the movies at 7pm, and one is a no-show is that really a good thing? What if they had an emergency in their family, the person who got stood up is going to think they are inadequate and worst of all they just spent time mentally preparing all week, getting dressed, driving to the theater just to be stood up. Sure, this is a lighter example but there are countless more serious ones.

In a heartbreaking fashion, the number of mass shootings is unfathomable, albeit unsurprising, without the advent of cellphones people wouldn't be able to notify their family or friends. This message could save the lives of countless who would be able to coordinate help from the outside or have one material message left from a loved one before their life was tragically taken.

Yes, direct interaction is ideal, however indirect communication can allow for longer lasting connection in times of tragedy and in daily life. Its nearly impossible to remember, let alone keep up to date with, the hundreds of people we meet throughout a given year, social media allows us to share a story, a message or even silently keep up to date on a person who we may have only met once.

Fact 2: Memes are not as intellectually complex as writing or verbal engagement. Yes, this is very true, I am actually anti-meme and think they are useless but I want to elucidate the fallacy in this argument.

Memes serve the purpose of analyzing society around us in a simple, easily digestible way that provides humor on real life instances. The problem with memes is both sides take them far too seriously, the ones who make memes see them as a substitute for actual engagement and those who hate them can't see through the reality that they are closer to cartoons in a newspaper.

While I agree ultimately memes are not substantial forms of engagement but very few people see them as such, I think they are best seen as humor more than anything else.

Now, the issue in the paragraph above I take umbrage with most is the idea that only direct conversations can lead to culture and society. I hate to be that pedant that refers to dictionary definition of a word, but sometimes I believe we get lost in our colloquial understanding of a word or a phrase, according to Merriam-Webster culture is defined as: the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time. I want to highlight the last portion of it “…in a place or time", we cannot be dogmatic in our understanding of culture—especially since culture changes constantly with time and place. So, today's culture includes ubiquitous social media content, fake news and indirect communication and we can either embrace it or yearn for a time long passed.

To get to the crux of my point, navel gazing serves very little purpose beyond dividing us as a people. Yearning for a past time, when things were supposedly better, places destiny ahead of what we can control.

Our society does not exist in vacuum, it is product of who we are and where we are going, therefore we do have the ability to change and make into what we enjoy both at a micro and macro level. Sure, I wish I could go back before I was a struggling 25-year-old to when enjoying cartoons and playing video games with my friends were my life's only goals, but I cannot.

So instead of fantasizing about a time that was, I try to recreate the joy that I felt at that point in my life. To me it's more empowering, knowing we control our world around us and that we are not beholden to a static culture that progresses without our participation.

I hope this provides fodder for continued debate since I know this is far from an exhaustive look at the benefits of the highly connected world, but it is a start, especially since the debate is controlled by those who believe everything was 'better back in my day' figured I would throw my cents into the hat.

----------

Dhruv Pathak works at Saathee and is also a community activist.