In the comments on the Simple Life post, Ramona said “We are becoming a society of disconnectedness”¦And, trust me, it all began with t.v.” and though she has a point, I have to disagree with her. Yes, T.V. has a lot to answer for, and modern technology does make it easy to tune out the world around you, if that’s your inclination: you can pop in those earbuds and go through your day hearing only what you’ve pre-selected to hear. But is it right to lay the blame for that behavior on the device?
Let me tell you a story about a connection made through technology. Sunday night, a man in Connecticut died, and I cried at my desk when I read the news Monday morning. Perry DeAngelis wasn’t my relative, friend, or friend-of-a-friend; I never met him, spoke to him, or even exchanged e-mails with him. He wasn’t a celebrity or statesman or object of public adulation. He was just a guy who was passionate about his view of the world, who got together with his friends each week to talk about the issues of the day, to joke and laugh and, often, to argue contentiously. Those conversations are published as a podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, one of the highlights of my weekly pod-listening.
We “˜met cute’, as movie lingo puts it: when I first started listening to SGU, I hated Perry, with his snotty tone of voice and conservative views. It annoyed me that he constantly baited Rebecca, the lone woman on the podcast and my Skepchick heroine/analog. I was on HER side, and he needed to SHUT UP. But as anyone who has ever seen a rom-com could tell you, the hate-on-sight reaction is generally a precursor to mad passion, and it wasn’t long before my feelings about Perry flipped. He made me laugh, in his incorrigibility, his crankiness, his outrageousness. I missed him when he wasn’t on a show. He was the spice in the stew; podcasts without him felt a little flat. By the time the Monkey-vs.-Bird debate got up to full steam, I was firmly in Perry’s camp. (Monkeys forever, Perry!)
Perry started missing shows a few weeks ago, but each week the host, Steve, said he was simply ill and would be back the next week. Even when he didn’t participate, Perry still recorded the Quote of the Week that closes each podcast; he sounded tired, strained, and one memorable week, completely looped out on medication. Still, Steve assured us Perry would be back with us soon, even after he was hospitalized for his illness. So the news Monday morning that Perry had passed away came as a complete shock, and put me in a weirdly paralyzed kind of grief: how do you grieve for someone you didn’t know? I don’t know his family to reach out to; I could post a note of sympathy on a discussion thread, but that just feels like noise in the crowd. How do I honor the loss of someone important enough to me to cry about, yet so very removed from my life?
I could have walked by Perry in a crowd and never known it, unless he happened to be declaiming about something in his distinctive voice””that nasal-yet-raspy voice would have stopped me dead anywhere. If he’d been a guy at the office, I might have found him completely annoying. But as it happened, I got to know him through his weekly discussion of issues that were important to him, and to me. Despite the multitudinous differences between us, not to mention the miles, I found we had common ground.
Technology is a tool, nothing more or less. It’s as good or bad as the uses people put it to. The worst I can say about it is it’s an amplifier of tendencies, so if you tend toward isolation, it will help you wall yourself off. But if you tend toward connection, it will help you find people to communicate with. Maybe my life wouldn’t have been all that different if I had never heard of Perry DeAngelis, but I am glad I did. His life enriched mine, his death is a true loss, and the connection was entirely thanks to technology.