“Where you are is partially defined by where you are not. When you’re somewhere, you’re not somewhere else. But when you use your phone, you’re everywhere. You keep in touch with friends. You hear what’s going on at home. You see the screen exactly as you do anywhere else.” – Derek Sivers, “Travel without a phone”

As humans, we face the existential problem of only being present at one time and in one place. We are constrained in this fabric of space and time because we are not omnipresent beings. Moreover, we are also not omniscient creatures, in which our existence is tied to what we observe. Amidst what we can observe in the present moment, the infinite combinations of what we can observe are further limited by what we can notice, as our brains are not multiprocessors like computers are. Once the event passes, the collection of stimuli we have accumulated of the event decays exponentially, where what we notice is then gradually filtered to what we can remember. Similar to how a painting fades with age, the final inklings of what we remember will eventually be forgotten too.

Because of this existential problem, where we are is certainly defined by where we are absent. Essentially being the opportunity cost of experiences. By being present in one place, we have effectively said no to every other experience that we could have undertaken under the sun.

For most of human existence, this has been the case – till the advent of technology. In the past, paintings took a lot of time to capture a slice of the never-ending march of time. Without paintings, it would be hard to guess what Beethoven looked like, for example. As technology progressed, it eventually led to the invention of photography at the beginning of the 19th century. Though requiring a lot of equipment at first, as time went by it became easier and easier to take photos – traversing from analog film to digitised pixels. As of today, these high-resolution digital pixels define much of our world, and thus social life. No more are we constrained to geographical locations, in which every social media account is a gallery that in some way portrays a life. This medium consists of an amalgamation of limitless experiences that we can live vicariously. We can be everywhere, knowing the activity of all our friends in any corner of the world.

Yet in this era of unprecedented connectedness does come at a cost, where we have traded real experiences for virtual ones. For instance, whenever we use our phones during the dinner table, what we are effectively conveying to others is that we prefer our virtual reality above the tangible world of people around us.

Does the benefit of global connectedness and a seemingly limitless source of information outweigh the costs of being present? It’s difficult to say. However, we should strive to achieve the best of both the physical and digital. Whatever that is put on the internet is contrived in some way or another, where the selection of what one portrays is a filter in and of itself. Certainly, its genuineness can be put into question, where as human beings, we tend to show what is polished and aesthetic to the world.

Where we are is defined by where we are not. With technology in the equation, we effectively trade where we are currently with a virtual existence that is difficult to know if it is genuine. To find real human connection, we must make every effort to be present in every situation. To keep the phone faced down. To make every effort to catch up with people in real life rather than on the internet. There is plenty of time to engage with the virtual world when one is alone anyways.