I have been on a hiatus ever since the end of my Masters course in June this year. This is not the same thing as being completely free. There are projects I am involved in and stuff I have to read and write. But the one thing missing is the face-to-face social interaction that I have been so involved in all my life. Strangely enough even when I was at home with two young children I didn’t feel this isolated. I had my kids to talk to. And even if they couldn’t form the words, they were communicating right back at me. A hug, a kiss, a giggle, a wink, and lots of words from me…these were the components of many hours of delightful conversation. Anyone who has ever looked after a two-year-old will know that even though the kid can’t talk much, he can still have a long-running argument with you which can make you want to tear your hair out. So no, I didn’t feel isolated.
But my kids are grown up now. My best friend- my husband- travels a great deal. And I am now starved of that which I have come to realise is almost as vital for my survival as breathing and eating: talking face-to-face.
My work is mostly on the computer. I communicate with most of my friends online- Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, chats, Skype and discussion boards. Some of them are on the telephone. There are a couple I only have BlackBerry chats with. So yes, I am in contact. Technically. On the move I have a POFCP (plain old-fashioned cell phone) and a BlackBerry.
But there are times when this just is not enough for me. WAIT! I want to scream. I AM MORE THAN THE SUM OF MY DEVICES! I am a living, breathing person who needs human contact. Today I was trying to express my sense of isolation to a friend on google chat. She typed in: that’s it. I’m calling you. And she did. She would have come over, but Serbia is kind of far away.
The phone call helped. It still was technologically mediated, but it was a step up from a text chat. My friend asked me about Singapore- “don’t you find people in the library to talk to?” Apparently in Serbia people are very friendly. It took me a while to explain to her that in Singapore we even avoid eye contact with each other, to say nothing of starting a conversation with a stranger. Even when people are waiting for the bus, they are on their smartphones or handheld games. Gone are the days when you can strike up a friendship based on a chance meeting. I sometimes wonder if online social networking has made us less adept at forming offline friendships except those based on compulsory regular contact in places like schools and offices.
Come January I will be thrown into a whirlwind of new face-to-face experiences. For now, there are times when I want to switch all my devices off. It will be an experiment. If I am offline, will I still be alive?