The high-tech disconnect

As he brings the flute to his lips, he is extremely focused. An elderly man, his eyebrows are thick and bushy, and the lines on his face illustrate a long life. I watch in interest as he plays. He concentrates hard, but for nothing. His performance is seen by everyone, his music heard by all — and yet almost everyone walks by heedlessly, not caring to stop, to listen, to care.

He is a busker. He plays at Finch station every Wednesday, hoping to collect some money.

But every time I’ve seen him, his change box is nearly empty. Instead of tossing him coins, the people going by are talking on their phones, listening to their iPods or texting on their BlackBerrys. Then it hits me: this poor fellow has no idea what generation he’s dealing with.

The technological era has, for some, been difficult to adapt to; for others, it’s been nearly impossible. But for many people, technology has become a fundamental part of how we communicate.

It’s obvious that technology has done much to enhance the quality of our lives. We can communicate faster than ever before, to anywhere in the world. Businesses are more efficient, people more social. Many would say technology offers solutions to our problems.

But despite how much we’ve progressed due to such innovation, we’ve also moved backward in some key areas.

With all of the technology that is being utilized to make social connections easier, we are actually growing disconnected from each other on a personal level.

I have just over 300 friends on Facebook. Many are from grade school; some I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years. With Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, we’re more social than ever before. But instead of having a few close, meaningful relationships, we have hundreds of insignificant acquaintances… rather than true friends.

On more than one occasion, I’ve run into acquaintances on the subway, but eventually they’re apt to put on headphones as soon as there’s an awkward silence or two in the conversation. Nowadays, we send texts and e-mails to avoid calling each other — so we can eliminate small talk. People want quick, efficient exchanges of information.

I stare at the busker in awe. I realize people are looking at me strangely, and yet everyone is still completely oblivious to the man playing the flute. It’s as if being absorbed in our own technological shell diminishes the importance of the people around us.

I toss a dollar into his change box and go on my way. As I walk off, I notice the man pauses, if just for an instant.