The other day my friend Mordy asked me this question:
Are you more or less connected since you started spending so much time on the Internet?
I'm more connected to people I don't know.
I'm equally connected to the people I do know.
I'm less connected to myself.
I recently walked through a hotel restaurant where every single person was interacting with a device of some sort. They were together spatially, but that was about it.
The actual number of social interactions I have with friends hasn't been impacted by the Internet. But I do worry that the quality of those interactions has taken a hit because everyone in the room is not only connected to each other, but also to everything else in the world.
So when it comes to my connectedness with people I know, I'd say it's about a draw. The overall frequency of our interactions has increased, but my ability to focus on them and only them has become more challenging in this age of distraction.
The distractions play an even more aggressive role when it comes to my connection with myself. Most of the moments once reserved for a little alone time have been infiltrated by the realtime Internet. I never just wait for a bus, or just stand in line at a bank, or even just sit and think as I sit stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. At these moments, I pull my phone out of my pocket faster than a gunfighter pulls his weapon out of its holster.
The only time I really experience any self-reflection these days is when my computer sleeps and my screen goes dark.
Of course, the draw of our devices is about more than relieving boredom (a goal the devices only occasionally achieve). It's about getting a fix; reacting to a feeling of urgency that you've got to keep up with whatever it is that's coming into your stream right now. Part of the power of the realtime web is that it can quickly make you feel like you can't live without a flow of data that you easily lived without before you discovered it.
That's the Internet's reverse placebo effect: you feel as though you were missing something important before you signed up for the latest service. It's a drug for an ailment you never had.