Bound and Wired
A first-hand account of hyperconnectivity gone wrong
'Twas a dark and stormy night, as dark as it was stormy.
On the couch I sat, my eyes darting from screen to screen with cat-like quickness. Only a low constellation of small flashing lights illuminated the anteroom where I'd passed the last fortnight, or perhaps even longer.
The phone rang. I ignored it. It rang again. Ditto. A flurry of text messages sent the other phone into a symphonic pinging frenzy. My Twitter feed pulsed to life. Instant-message windows arched across my screens, forming a rainbow of would-be electronic intercourse. Then I heard it, clear above the blips and burps and buzzes that had come to be my perma-soundtrack, even in my sleep.
"You okay in there, kiddo?" growled a voice that sounded like my dad's filtered through a megaphone that was clearly - pathetically, really - analog. Then silence. Then: "Honey, it's your mother. We're all very worried about you." Silence again. Moments passed, as moments tend to do. And finally, V.: "Schnookiepants, it's me. I just want you to know that I'm here. WE'RE here." I didn't respond. I couldn't. How long had it been since she'd left, since I'd heard the singsong timbre of her voice? How long had it been since...
Then a sudden change in her tone, from empathy to something usually reserved for Time Warner Cable service reps. I'd heard that tone before. I was, to coin a phrase, screwed to next Tuesday. "Okay, jackass. If you're not coming out, we're coming in." The megaphone cut off, but not before I heard a distant voice barking orders. The perimeter was about to be breached, with great prejudice.
I dropped my devices, all nine of them. I pushed off the couch to find my legs had lost sensation. When the medics exploded through the door seconds later, they asked me if I knew who I was, where I was, why they were there. My response: "Guh?"
How did it come to this? Hyperconnectivity, that's how. Or why. Whatever.
According to some Web site somewhere or other on the Internet, the term "hyperconnectivity" was coined by two Canadian people, Barry Wellman and Anabel Quan-Haase, to describe "the simultaneous use of multiple means of communication." Such communication, they posited, may or may not be facilitated by the linking together of a bunch of computers and phones and robots and gps doohickeys and - according to another one of those Web-site places - "industrial, farm and ranch equipment."
I was connected, man. Oh, was I ever. My religion was my gear, and vice versa. An iPhone. A 4g Android smartphone. Tablets from Apple and hp and the other company - you know, the one with the products and the ads. Canon digital camera. Flip camera. Garmin gps unit. Binoculars, because you never know. My feet were on the ground and my mp3s were in the cloud.
Thanks to phone number three, which nobly sacrificed itself as a wireless hub for my other devices, I could be wired into ten gadgets at any given time. I was linked up. I was LinkedIn. Foursquare registered my presence at Starbucks and Costco alike. I tweeted my every thought and action, save for those regarding matters of personal hygiene and plumbing. Those I saved for Facebook.
At first, my hyperconnectedness felt intimidating and unreal. Toggling between one device and the next left me in a state of constant, thrilling overstimulation. When one was quiet, the other was loud. Fingers splayed, I could simultaneously share my thoughts across a wide spectrum of media with a wide swath of humanity. In my hyperconnected world, I was sage and savant, pundit and referee. My opinions were valued. Doctor Who? More like Doctor Who CARES ANYMORE!!! Am I right? Am I right? That guy over there knows what I'm talking about.
The first sign of trouble came on the night when V. graced me with her earthly presence. We'd met in an online forum; she disparaged Dane Cook, and it felt like love. Our relationship had existed in that realm for some time before she suggested we meet. That day, I looked straight at her and she looked straight back. The rest was a formality.
But our relationship quickly vanished into the virtual ether that had birthed it. One night, seeking to enliven what had become rote, I brought a gleaming iPad prototype into our boudoir. Upon noticing it, a cloud of disgust descended over V.'s face. She said that devices - our beloved hyperconnected devices, the same ones that had steered us to one another! - were no substitute for human interaction. "You know what that thing is?" she asked, gesturing towards Steve Jobs' glimmering monument to sleek functionality. "It's a birth-control device. For you it is, anyway."
Such slander had never escaped a sentient being's lips. I departed the bedroom for the makeshift office adjacent to the kitchen and retreated into my jungle of torrents. V. didn't come around much after that.
Reality truly set in on a crisp fall afternoon some months later. I'd been enjoying it in the comfort of my living room, with the blinds glued shut and the air-conditioner set to an invigorating 58 degrees. If memory serves, I was engaged in some kind of Second Life role-play. I believe an aardvark costume was involved.
As I parried the advances of the other pixelated furries, a sound began to emanate from one of my phones. It was chime-like: clear and resonant, as if it were made by something like vibrating metal - a "ringing" sound, if you will. At first, I didn't know what to make of it, but my device showed me the way, suggesting that I "slide" the touch-screen "bar" in a certain "direction" to "answer" the "call." I did as it said. From the speaker came a voice that sounded robotic. It kept asking me to "press one to confirm" that I understood what it was saying. This message... it said everything, and yet nothing at all. I froze.
Eventually a more natural human voice replaced the robot one. "Sir, are you there? This is Debbie from SuperCuts. I am confirming your appointment for tomorrow at ten a.m." I attempted to respond, only to find that no words could be summoned. No longer could I speak; what emanated from my throat was a mewl, at best, and barely audible. The voice on the other end of the phone paused briefly. It trembled, as did I. "Tomorrow at ten a.m.," it repeated. Another pause, longer this time, then, "I think I'm talking to a cat."
I moved to place the phone on an adjacent table, but my legs had ceased to function. I remained on the couch, hyperconnected but alone. That's where the medics found me.
It's later now. Days, weeks, months - I can't tell. I'm comfortable here. There is television and there is tapioca.
In the end, I didn't wait for a court order to dictate the new terms of my electronic life, nor for the report from the headmaster of the facility from which I relay this dispatch. (It said, and I quote, "Subject could stand to get some sun.") I surrendered my phones without a fight.
I get it. The more hyperconnected I was, the less connected I truly was. My counselors tell me that this realization is the first step toward my interpersonal salvation. They banter about their young nieces and extol life's simpler glories, like books and picnics and gardening. I tell them what they want to hear. I renounce my beloved devices, decry their effect on my personality and physiology. Someday I might even mean what I say.
Anyway, I only blog now.