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A day of disconnect

September 25, 2011

There are times when all of us need to disconnect ourselves from the rest of the world, take a breather and spend a little time alone. I can do that in crowds, and it’s no problem tuning out the outside world. I especially like to do it while flying, which is what I did a couple of days ago, traveling from my home in San Antonio to Albany, N.Y., for a residency in my grad school program.

From the moment a friend dropped me off at the airport to the time another friend picked me up at the end of my journey, I was as zoned out of my environs as I could possibly be.

Once I reached my departure gate, I signed in on my laptop and began to work on a book I need to have finished by early December. I became so caught up in what I was doing, I didn’t even hear the boarding call for my flight. Thankfully, I was in the last group to board, so when I heard my name being paged, I yanked the laptop from its plug and ran into line. I found the very last seat on the plane, shut down the laptop and fell asleep until we reached Baltimore, where I had to change planes.

I went back to the computer for another wait and made some good progress on my work until the plane began to board. Again with no interaction from anyone, I managed to find a good seat on the plane and settle in with the beginning of Tolstoy’s “A Confession.” (“Like all madmen, I thought everyone was mad except myself,” he wrote back in 1879. And sometimes madmen, to borrow  Garbo’s phrase, just want to be alone.)

By the time the plane had landed, the only word I had spoken on the entire flight was my drink order. “Seltzer,” I mumbled when the flight attendant asked what I wanted. I might have added “Thank you” to the exchange, but she got distracted by another flyer the moment she handed me my drink, thereby preventing an overflow of chatter.

Does it ever seem as though we do this in a much larger picture? I mean, that as the world becomes smaller through the Internet, the more we disconnect ourselves from the world around us.

I can have a conversation with people in Germany on Skype, but I don’t know my neighbors — and I’ve lived in the same house for 11 years. They don’t seem to mind not knowing me, either. We nod at each other on the rare occasion when we head to our cars at the same time and let it go at that.

I work in a dark room — not a photographic darkroom, but a windowless, dim space I call “The Pit” with no lights on. The web page designers around me like to see their screens as brilliantly illuminated as possible. The cheap, dingy glare of the fluorescent bulbs overhead is just not conducive to the detailed work they’re attempting.

There are generally 10 of us, and with the exceptions of greeting each other in the morning and asking if anyone wants a coffee from one of the five Starbucks in the building, talk is kept to a minimum. Instead, most everyone is plugged into his or her MP3 player or listening to tunes on a cellphone and blissing out while concentrating. We’ll stop, if we get a phone call, but then we usually leave the room at that point so as not to disturb anyone. And, yes, most of us leave our phones on vibrate for the same reason.

I just wonder sometimes if any of them are picturing themselves in a sun-drenched room instead of all that darkness? I’d ask, but it might disturb someone.


From → #CMC11

  1. Hi John,

    I found your narrative interesting and stimulating. It made me think about my on- and off-line relationships and friendships. Not sure if it is easier to connect with others online than it is offline and as you say we don’t always want to be connected. Switching-off is important too and we need time for ourselves.

    You say “the world becomes smaller through the Internet, the more we disconnect ourselves from the world around us.” This is a fascinating observation. If this is indeed the case, what consequences does this have for human relationships and our identities. We hear a lot about digital identities these days. What about our real-life identity? Just wondering ;o)

    Looking forward to your next posts.

    • I think it speaks poorly about the future of relationships, because we are so wrapped up in our bubble that we fail to recognize the world around us. I just finished an interesting class discussion on windows versus mirrors, and I think we are becoming more self-centered (therefore relationships will suffer) than observant of the outside world and the needs of those around us.

      Is it any wonder that people now cheer at the thought of pulling the plug on someone else who does have insurance to cover his or her medical needs?

  2. Hi John,

    yes, in a bubble and while we talk about connecting with others online I am many times wondering what our motives really are. Is it real interest or just a way to be seen interested and connected? This is all very sad…


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