Wired But Disconnected

Think about how one connects with others through all the wires that fill our lives. This is not about why people connect, whether they should connect, or that connecting is good or bad for society. I am not against wiring. Wiring is necessary to a life well lived, especially in the digital age. For some, it is probably more important than eating or sleeping or other mutually desired activities. However, sadly we have become the wires that control how we live.

In our increasingly complex world, it is easy to distance oneself from reality because of all the manual and virtual connections we make. We rarely take into account how we actually connect, person to person. I often wonder about the truth of connecting with people, places and things given the power that wires have over us. Because of the wiring in our homes, offices, schools and public places, we like to think we are together, yet we are alone in a complicated world tethered to an outsized electrical construct that can, and sometimes does, collapse before our eyes if the plug fails, intentionally or accidentally. Then what will we do? What can we do?

Understand that I am not talking about major power outages caused by runaway nature. When these occur, all bets are off. Nothing works. Survival is more important than seeing your email, getting a Tweet, accessing Facebook. The grid often collapses.

No substitute exists that will connect us when that happens. Wi-Fi helps in these situations, but it does not fully replace the wires that rule us.

In their advertising, some companies are suggesting they have the answer to survival in the wired age if you subscribe to their services. A new commercial running on television pushes the need for speed and reliability for computers, phones and the Internet. It shows people happily engaging with their appliances and suddenly the power goes off. Faces droop. Darkness. Then magically, the power returns and because the people are using the advertised brand, they get what they want faster. Everyone is happy. Faces actually light up and life goes on, seemingly better than before the untimely blackout.

Look at how everything you need and want in life needs an electrical outlet to function. Recently The New York Times ran a good natured article about a man of a certain age describing how he did not recognize where he lived because wires were everywhere where once they were not. He put a best face on the change in his life, realizing there was nothing he could do about all the gadgets his children and grandchildren were using. A friend described to me something similar about life in her summer place.

From almost no devices in their home, suddenly her house guests had more devices than you could count everywhere plugged into every outlet in nearly every room. Her many guests often sat around, each in a world of his or her own alone, unblinkingly tied to the apparatus in front of them, not speaking to anyone else.

As ordinary citizens, we have no control over the wires in our lives and how they dictate who we are now. No doubt they will continue to affect who we are into the future. Even though we may think we are wireless by using Wi-Fi, or subscribing to the Cloud, in reality, we never are completely free of wires. Though radio waves work their magic with Wi-Fi, we ultimately must connect to where wires exist.

I went online to find the number of wires in an average home or apartment. It was impossible to find an answer. I did learn that wires are everywhere, in ways we never thought possible. They are either hiding or always in plain sight. They have various colors. They are short or long depending on what they connect. The computer hook-up in my home office must have over a hundred feet of wires. I am not exaggerating. They are necessary, first to make sure I am connected me to the world I sometimes inhabit – the Web.

Those wires also link my phones, my TV and the Internet. So, yes. This applies to me to some extent. But, still. Wires of all colors and sizes are changing how we live. If they do not affect you, when you think about it, you must realize they do. They do my life, without any doubt, because if I loosen one or pull one out of its socket or a plug-in from its hub, if too much dust lands on a connection, my life changes in an instant. Until I locate the trouble, I reach a near panic state. Once I discover the problem, all is again right with my world.

The need for all this power using wires was not evident when computers, television, smart phones and tablets became part of our lives. I am not advocating a return to wood burning stoves and kerosene lanterns. Learn to use the electricity flowing in and out of your life. Do not allow disappointment to color how you live when the grid collapses from overuse or perhaps, poor wiring. Be strong when disaster strikes. Someday, we might be able to virtually wire our brains in a way that eliminates real wires. At least, that is what futurists see. Then what?

Editor’s Note: All photographs from the United States National Archives.

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