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I’m at one of the neighborhood coffeeshops. An expansive, hip warehouse-type place with experienced baristas and indoor bike-racks (They removed the indoor skate ramps a month or so ago).

It’s well populated with students and professionals at their computers. Local residents knitting or playing cards. Dogs allowed. There’s a corner full of children’s toys and games, and although it’s not often that the wee ones show up, this place shows that their welcome.

The acoustics here mean nothing is private. Not the place to break up with someone. Not the place to conduct out-loud business.

Or is it?

The high-top table next to us is an example of what portable technology has made of privacy.

From what I understand of the situation, the couple is either on the outs or already out and doing some sort of custody exchange. I am trying not to eavesdrop, in the interest of thinking up a subject for today’s entry. However, the sheer volume of my neighbors is impossible to completely ignore. The woman is upset that the man is exposing their daughter (who is wandering about the shop talking to patrons about princesses) to some outside immoral influence. His response? The man makes more money than you’ll ever see in your entire life, and you just have to deal with it. She doesn’t want to deal with it, she tries to engage him in a discussion. He takes out his phone, pushes a few buttons and holds it to his ear as she continues to talk. Someone picks up and he walks away. She mid-sentence.

Whether the phone call is related or not is hard to tell, but it seems equally private. He repeats several times that it sounds like he’s going to have to take legal action on the matter at hand.

What’s going on here? Is it a personality thing? Some people are eager to show their personal and professional private parts anywhere they can?

I even once overheard a woman in a public library speaking so loudly on the telephone that I understood the intricate details of the status of her immigration paperwork and complications. The public library. The home of shhhhhhhh!

There is something more to this accusation that technology is alienating us. Several accounts and studies have acknowledged that social networking is actually making us lonelier. It is observable anywhere that we are more in touch with our iPhones than the art on the walls.

More than this, though, it literally seems to be detaching us from the notion that there are even other people around. Is it possibly that this arguing couple and the woman in the library see the physical people around them as mere technological extensions, plugged in somewhere else and unaware of them or their very private conversation.

It seems that even in the real world, we have lost hold of the humanity of our neighbors. Either this couple sees me and the rest of the coffee consumers as automatons unable to decode their drama, or they don’t care. I’m not sure which is more alarming.

It’s not that this is new, it’s that it persists, and we have no real solution. I even read about an app yesterday that would allow a person to run any major decision by their entire social network before coming to a conclusion. Nevermind that it could discourage an individual from making any decision for themselves. Also, that they would to go over to Ma’s house, not even call up a friend. Instead, instantly, like an online poll, get the opinions of online “friends” for any life decision.

Doesn’t this seem like it’s going in the wrong direction? Perhaps this connection is more important than we think. Maybe it’s more than just a rag-magazine opinion piece.

I watched a video yesterday (Admittedly, I got the link from my twitter feed and watched the video online). It was of an Enbridge Oil helicopter pilot, assigned to do flyovers of the pipeline being built to bring tar sands oil to the gulf coast, including over the Red Lake Nation tribal blockade in northern Minnesota.

The man landed the helicopter in a self-initiated visit to those at the blockade. He wanted to put a face to the overhead sound of rotating blades. He offered the group a plastic bag, which he said contained coffee. A peace offering of sorts. He repeated that he only represented himself only, not Enbridge.

It seems that there are a lot of similarities between this act and the person/online person contrast. This man, and many others work for oil giant Enbridge. They are mostly seen as part of the whole, an unhuman object of a larger goal. The same with the protesters, occupying in some places the actual pipeline.

Yet, each individual has a unique, yet universally human story. Human empathy. As our cultures markets become run by larger and larger businesses, it gets harder to distinguish and agree on what’s really best, and decisions are made without any real understanding or even vision of the human impact.

This is not to say that technology and big business have to go, but perhaps it’s time to spend some real time trying to figure out how we can use technology without the social isolation. There are some examples, but the trend is away from physical society and deeper into virtual society.

Let’s climb out. Get connected where we are. For starters, we can become aware of the individuals around us, curious about their stories. We can start by caring, but, that’s just between me and you.

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