Phone dead. Communication cut off, I was left with one option: engage in the world around me. The airport was quiet and clean. A Kiwi couple across from me disrupting the otherwise calm nature of my surroundings. I glimpsed a familiar book cover peeking out of their oversized backpack, the type only a true adventurer lugs around.
“Is that Shantaram?” I asked, pointing at the gold cover. “Yes!" the women said, "Such a great travel book, have you read it?” The conversation remained light as we exchanged the common questions travelers ask each other.
My mind was still stuck in the three virtual conversations moments earlier: my sister telling me she missed me, a friend asking about my experience in New Zealand and my mother wanting to hear about my flight to Singapore. I was across the world from Colorado and yet the technological umbilical cord of "home" remained.
I envied my mother who had traveled at nineteen and only called home twice. I adored my friends and family and the ease in which I could communicate with them. But I was changing and felt a disconcerting jerk back into old habits when I contacted them.
Brought back to the current moment, the conversation had plunged into more intense topics. The death of the man's sister had prompted him to quit his job and travel. I was embarrassed that I was distracted by such trivial matters. My phone's loss of power didn’t translate into my mind's ability to turn off the distraction.
Travel had given me a startling insight into the contrast between my time spent communicating virtually versus in person. Over the internet, the tactile nature of nonverbal communication gets lost. In person and abroad, you rely heavily on nonverbal cues to make a point or connect.
I dove into my story, revealing more about myself than I usually do, relaxed by the open nature of the conversation. My dead phone remained in my lap, entirely forgotten. We would never talk again after boarding our separate flights. We only touched the surface of each others’ lives. Yet, they affected me more deeply than any of the previous internet conversations.
Are we, actually, more “connected” these days through our use of technology? We certainly communicate more often but is this at the expense of the quality of the connection?