Wednesday, September 28, 2011


It has become a commonplace, these days, to observe how dependent we have all become on our "connectivity." What a word! It throws us--I should speak for myself: it throws me--into a near panic, at least a conniption, when my computer fails to connect me with the Internet. It happens frequently on our travels. Most recently it happened first in London, of all places, and then again in New York City. You'd think, wouldn't you, that whatever magic makes the digital connection is simply in the air in those great cities, instantly available when you open up your laptop. But no. There are always the unexpected hindrances. It requires patience--more, I confess, than I have--to make the necessary intricate adjustments, to find the new codes and passwords, to hit exactly the right combination that unlocks the door.

These thoughts were prompted on our return home by the box that awaited me from AT&T: a new modem and a new device (name?) that broadcasts the signal through the house, operating not only the online access for the computers but also the television reception and recording system. We had been increasingly plagued, before we left, by intermittent lapses in the service, especially in Ellie's upstairs office, and I had asked our trust assistant Emily to get AT&T on the case during our absence. The box in the garage was the result of her efforts. A do-it-yourself solution to our problems.

Well, I tried. To say that my skills in electronic assembly would be an understatement, but this looked simple enough. Until I reached the instruction that told me to connect the gray cable. Where the gray cable was supposed to be, there were three green cables. I was flummoxed. I awaited Emily's arrival yesterday afternoon. She is, of course, being much younger and much smarter in these matters, a good deal more competent than I. She looked at the instruction sheet, carefully mapped out with explicit visual aids for dummies, and she too had to admit defeat. We called the company.

Hand it to At&T, their tech guy arrived promptly the next morning. I did not feel quite so stupid as I watched him work under my desk for a good couple of hours before testing out the system. Everything worked. And worked better than before. Faster. With no interruptions. I remarked upon his genius, but he was modest: you soon get to understand how these things work, he explained. It takes a couple of weeks...

So here I sit, thinking about connection, and how dependent I have become upon it. I was writing just a couple of days ago about my (relatively benign) addictions. This is another one. Was a day when a letter would take four or five days to make the journey between writer and recipient through the post; even longer, or course, if you go back a century or two. Now I notice my impatience if the email fails to load in more than a few seconds. The joy of opening a letter from a loved one has been replaced by the chore of working through fifty advertisements and other spam before reaching a few lines of personal communication in the form of hastily-written, mis-spelled, ungrammatical shorthand blitzes of verbiage. Words are rarely used as the medium I have always loved, but as the conveyers of instant messages, quickly eyed and just as quickly trashed with the delete button.

It's foolish, though, to wax nostalgic. I shall have grown old, indeed, when I can no longer adapt to the changes in the culture in which I live and work. For the present, where would I be, as a writer, without the miracle of the Internet and the opportunity it offers to communicate with my fellow human beings throughout the world? It has brought with it a privilege I would be ungracious not to recognize. But then I think of those moments on our recent journey when I actually met, face to face, with people with whom I can communicate normally only with the aid of the computer, via email, or Skype, or this blog I write.

I'm thinking not only of family and old friends. That was indeed a treat, to spend time with my sister, my son and his family, the friends I have mentioned in along the way in my recent entries. I'm thinking also of those fellow bloggers--Fiona and Kaspa of A River of Stones and Writing Our Way Home; and Jean of Tasting Rhubarb--met in person for the first time, after following them online. I'm thinking of meeting for the first time with the Blankfort family, Ellie's relatives in New York, contacted only courtesy of the Internet. I'm thinking of the kind orthodontist who helped us through the maze of the subway in Manhattan, and with whom we are now in touch thanks to the same digital marvel. These are connections that would have been scarcely imaginable before.

The best, warmest, and most intimate human connection is through the senses: touch, sight, hearing... These things cannot be replaced. There is a richness and a depth to it that can simply not be replicated in electronic form. Written words--unless in the form of poetry, perhaps, or a song--cannot express love with the same intensity as a single glance, a touch of the fingers, a whisper. The fulness of human relationship can only be truly experienced in person. Failing which, however, I'm grateful to have the proxy of online contact. To be able to "reach out and touch"--even if only digitally--is a treasure not to be ignored.

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