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Technology Breeds Isolation: When Was the Last Time You had a Conversation?

By 30/04/2012June 14th, 2016thoughts

And I don’t mean ‘Pass me the vegetables’ or ‘We ran out of milk’ sort of sound bytes. Nor do I mean texts, or Facebook messages, or Tweets. Technology breeds isolation.



Conversation is when two (or more) people talk face-to-face, not because they’ve been forced to by the circumstances, but because they wanted to talk, and took time out of their lives to do it.

I was recently visiting friends, and realized how our handheld devices– iPads, smartphones, distract our eyes (and attention) even when we’re with those we like/love. We never give fully of ourselves– in our need to stay connected with many, we hardly ever truly ‘connect’ with the person sitting next to us.

This is why, an article I read recently in the New York Times really resonated with me: (The article is quite worth a look..)

In the silence of connection, people are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people — carefully kept at bay. We can’t get enough of one another if we can use technology to keep one another at distances we can control: not too close, not too far, just right. I think of it as a Goldilocks effect.

Texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body. Not too much, not too little — just right.

Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.

I agree that we use technology to keep others at bay while still giving the impression of complete accessibility– but it is not technology that makes us do it, but our increasingly self-centered world-view. We have no time for others.

A splendid (by my standards, anyway) conversation I had the other day was in fact enabled by an iPad– I and my girlfriends spoke across the seas to another of us, via Skype: she is expecting a new arrival, and we admired her baby bump, the cute (but slightly over-sized) woolens she has knitted for the baby, waved to her husband, and promised to take pictures and facebook all the local food she craved (but could not find in her new country) just in order to tease her!

From time immemorial, technology always has been a two-way process– we use it to make our lives easier, but it also affects us in ways we did not account for. I’m just hoping all our communication devices do not actually deprive us of our conversations.

When was the last time You had a conversation? Do you find yourself having less conversations the more you connect? Does technology breed isolation or can you use technology to create communities?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • bronxboy55 says:

    A few months ago, I was at a memorial service for my brother. Later, back at his house, I sat in the living room along with my sister-in-law and about fifteen nieces, nephews, and other relatives. As I looked around, I noticed that almost everyone was using their iPad, laptop, or cell phone to communicate with someone who wasn’t there. So rather than use the time to share thoughts or feelings, they squandered the opportunity by choosing instead to engage in some other conversation. Or were they simply avoiding discomfort? Is that another by-product of technology?

    • Damyanti says:

      Charles, that is precisely what I’m talking about. Sometimes, after I’ve traveled hundreds of miles to visit friends, it is disconcerting to find them engaged with their gadgets through out my stay, and to find myself reaching for my iPad or phone in desperation. I know silence is golden and all that, but for that we need to feel really in tune with each other, and I didn’t feel connected to them at all. Yep, I like my conversation. 🙂

  • Damyanti says:

    Facebook is really an illusion of connection—sometimes just because people update Facebook, they feel they’ve done their bit in communicating with friends.
    I’ll have to pick up Brown’s book.

  • It terrifies me how easily and quickly we fall into the trap of “ooh, pretty tech!” and start to disconnect. This seems especially true when the tech gives the illusion that we’re actually connecting. I have issues with Sherry Turkle’s use of “connection”–I think that connection is actually what we need and crave, and shouldn’t be used to refer to something meaningless. Facebook is not connection; it is the illusion of connection, or the veneer of it. Real connection is what we get when we engage in that deep conversation with someone else. (I’ve been reading Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, which talks a lot about the importance of connection–I think she agrees with Turkle but her terminology is a bit more precise!)

  • Theasaurus says:

    My sister and I live together but we have very different schedules. We can go days without seeing one another, so we take time out once a week (usually Saturday mornings) to go to a cafe and “catch up”. It’s great to just chill out and simply chat. I teach at university, and she’s studying, so a lot of our conversations revolve around ideas and creativity.

  • Liz says:

    thanks for sharing this! It inspired me to switch off my laptop, and the TV, and write 2 long letters. Not sure that counts as conversation, but it is quiet and definitely not instant gratification 😉 Thanks again!

  • xerardomendez says:

    Well, the last conversation I had was just yesterday. Three hours talking with friends. It’s just the way we spend our free time here (this is a small european city). We just sit, have a beer and talk. The phone and internet was just there, sleeping. Is it so strange?

    • Damyanti says:

      No, it isn’t strange, it is beautiful. It is just that too many people succumb to the charms of the phone than the friends sitting right beside.

  • Wow, it’s been nearly a week for me since I had a proper conversation! Lol

    I talk to the hubby and kids, but it’s general home/dinner orientated stuff lol

    Hmmmmm, thank gawd I go to a writing class once a week! Lol


  • nicolepyles says:

    My family – my mom and oldest brother – about thirty minutes ago. Without even looking at my phone!

  • I don’t spend a lot of time on my devices on a weekend, of even most nights if hbby is home. I try to have a conversation with him every night, I see my parents and have a conversation with them every second weekend or so. I talk to Mum on the phone at least once a week. Friends are harder, especially since we all have toddlers, but I try to do that once every several months or so. I have regular (almost daily) conversations with a friend on MSN – yes, technolgy, but the conversation would be much the same if we spoke onthe phone, using MSN means I can talk to her at work and she doesn’t need to ‘leave’ when her toddler needs her – I can just wait for her to come back.

    Ironically, some of the people I’ve ‘connected’ with online I now have regular conversations with over lunch face to face.

    But one of the saddest things I did see was a group of silent teenage friends – no one was speaking because they were all on their phones!

    • Damyanti says:

      Ciara, yes—the conversation I mentioned above was on skype, with a friend who was miles away. If use technology and do not become its victim, life gets better. Also conversations.

  • Thank you for writing about this…I’ve been working on a photography series called Phantoms since 2010 about the very same subject…check it out at and read the artist statement at top…I do have conversations, but I work at it…they aren’t easy to come by 🙂

  • So true! Be scary to see how the next generation struggles with personal connection.