Recently I watched Sherry Turkle’s Ted Talk. An early adopter of technology, she is now concerned about the effects of technology: “We’re setting ourselves up for trouble,” she says, “trouble certainly in how we relate to each other, but also trouble in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection.” She says that Stephen Colbert asked her, "Don't all those little tweets, don't all those little sips of online communication, add up to one big gulp of real conversation?" Her answer was no: “Connecting in sips may work for gathering discreet bits of information, they may work for saying, ‘I'm thinking about you,’…but they don't really work for learning about each other, for really coming to know and understand each other. And we use conversations with each other to learn how to have conversations with ourselves.”
My brother died 8 years ago today – before Twitter, before Facebook, before smartphones (he would have loved smartphones). He and I and my sister grew up in a very different world from the one he left, much different, even, than most people our age. We lived in remote communities on the coast of British Columbia. Our first school was a one-room schoolhouse with nine kids from grade one to high school. My youngest son, trying to wrap his mind around a computer-less, mall-less, video-store-less, TV-less world (there was no cable and limited reception in these remote places) cried, “But what did you DO?”
We had a record player. Marc and I knew every single word on every single record. We knew all the words to Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton. We knew the whole Bambi sound track by heart. We played contract rummy by the hour. And we loved it when the catalogues came in the mail, especially the Christmas catalogues, and we would play my page, your page. You might not know that game. You sit side by side with the catalogue on your laps and your page is the one nearest you. You take turns randomly turning the pages and wherever it lands, you can pick whatever you want from your side. And sometimes you get something marvelous, while the other guy gets lady’s underwear. We rode our bikes. We built forts in the bushes. We pushed each other on swings so high that we sometimes flipped over.
Today, when I am taking time to think about my brother, I remember that despite the fact that he grew up to be one of the busiest men you’ll ever meet, an entrepreneur, a self-made man, the ultimate self-directed learner, he was never too busy. It was his gift, I know, but I’m guessing it was a gift nurtured by the way we grew up in a slower time, in a time when people were your world.
It reminds me that the dizzying speed of change is only the outside things. What remains the same are the people, and our constant desire, not for the next best thing or to win whatever game we are playing or even to change the world, but for someone to listen to us. In a world where so many people are connecting and sharing, where we can have friends and followers and our smartphones constantly beep and buzz and chirp with new messages, the loss of one person who really knows and understands you can break your heart.