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Shane Hipps on the Paradox of the Electronic Age

I have two friends who are best friends. Each was the best man in the other's wedding. They talk every day, sometimes more than once, on their cell phones. They live only a few blocks from each other. Yet recently, one told me that he hadn't seen his best friend in two months—two months! That's more than a hundred phone calls, and countless chances to hop in the car or walk a few blocks to see each other. Their friendship is withering from lack of true contact; each person has separately lamented to me that they don't feel they know the other person. Is it a stretch to think that the illusion of real contact provided by the cell phone has something to do with this sad story?

Electronic culture disembodies and separates us from those closest to us. Most of us are quite unaware of this phenomenon and, in fact, believe our technology is bringing us closer.

I was eating lunch with one of those friends when his phone rang and he answered it. He briefly apologized for the interruption and then joined his wireless conversation. In that moment, he was deported electronically, leaving me to dine by myself. …

The near become far, and the far become near.

This is the paradox of the electronic age. In this sense it retrieves and combines the characteristic of two previous media eras. If oral culture is tribal and literate culture is individual, the electronic age is essentially a tribe of individuals. This is a confused state of being in which we are thrown together from far-off places. We desire connection and community in our increasingly nomadic existence—yet we wander around the globe, glancing off other digital nomads without ever knowing or being known.

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