It has to be one of the great paradoxes of the digital age: as computers and the internet make our lives easier, so do they seem to make them more complicated.
Those of us who have embraced the information and communications technology (ICT) revolution can obviously fit a lot more into our lives, getting things done more quickly in our offices, from the comfort of our homes or from anywhere really, once there is connectivity. But therein may lie the rub. For, once people are connected, they can find themselves drawn deeper into exploring the wonders of the virtual world thanks to the instant and infinite access to information that the internet provides, with the risk that some might even find themselves disconnected from reality.
On the plus side, internet shopping, e-government, online banking, email, online reservations, almost everything we can think of and more than we ever knew existed are available, literally at our fingertips. OK, OK, perhaps not so much in Guyana where, as with many other aspects of life and development, we are still playing catch-up. But even if our ICT infrastructure is relatively undeveloped and our rate of internet penetration in 2012 was a lowly 34.3%, ranked 124th in the world (compared with Antigua and Barbuda, 83.8% and 23rd, Barbados, 73.3% and 43rd, Trinidad and Tobago, 59.5% and 66th), visual and anecdotal evidence suggests that our citizens, particularly our younger ones, are increasingly tech-savvy, au courant with the latest devices and applications, and interconnected.
Of course, for the Guyanese diaspora, the internet is indispensable. Just look at Facebook and the multiplicity of pages devoted to things Guyanese and you will get an idea of just how interconnected we are as a people, spread across the globe as we are, pretty much a virtual nation in many respects.
Computers have also made better multi-taskers of most people who use them. Some of us, for instance, sit at our desks all day long, sending and replying to emails (often on more than one account), reading the local and global news, checking the sports scores or celebrity gossip, playing games, updating our Facebook status and dipping in and out of other people’s lives, and, oh yes, even doing some work in between all that. But does that make us more efficient or just busier?
More worrying yet, the lines between professional and private lives are becoming increasingly blurred with 24/7 internet connectivity and smart phones, iPods, iPads, other tablets and the like. An obvious pitfall is that people are in danger of becoming slaves to the very tools that appear to be so liberating.
There are other downsides such as internet trolls and cyber-bullying, personality disorders and vulnerable souls falling victim to all sorts of faceless predators. For some, the dangers are more prosaic. Instant communication can lead to a veritable deluge of the mundane on Facebook, Twitter, BBM, WhatsApp and so on. One sees families and groups of friends out having dinner or drinks and it is not uncommon to see several members of a circle playing with their various devices, taking and emailing selfies, pictures of their meals and of each other, sending texts to say where they are, or how they’re feeling. Perpetual connectivity has some people’s hands in perpetual motion and too often the result is perpetual banality.
Then there are those who gather around the television set to watch the latest reality show and who, plugged into their respective devices, instantaneously communicate their thoughts, emotions and votes to the outside world, to total strangers in some cases, to anyone connected with them in cyberspace, as if such contact is more meaningful than that with those in physical proximity to them.
But though we might lament the lost art of conversation, this would appear to be the way of the modern world: life as a multimedia experience. People seem to love being ‘plugged in’ and connected, with or without headphones, playing games, listening to streaming music, watching podcasts and films, tweeting, texting and posting. It is all very addictive; some might call it antisocial but this is perhaps the new social.
Maybe that is why people nowadays tend to ‘interact’ – a word more appropriate to working with a machine than reflective of genuine human contact – instead of chatting, talking, conversing and relating to one another. But are they really connecting or are they disconnecting? Has the digital age brought us a brave new world or, worst case scenario, will the potential for dysfunction take us to a dystopian future usually only seen through the lens of Hollywood?