This is a text from my writing course. I'm trying to understand the text so that I can get some idea to write my essay.

Online connections were first conceived as a substitute for face-to-face contact, when the latter was for some reason impractical: Don't have time to make a phone call? Shoot off a text message. But very quickly, the text message became the connection of choice. We discovered the network-the world of connectivity-to be uniquely suited to the overworked and overscheduled life it makes possible. And now we look to the network to defend us against loneliness even as we use it to control the intensity of our connections. Technology makes it easy to communicate when we wish and to disengage at will.

A few years ago at a dinner party in Paris, I met Ellen, an ambitious, elegant young woman in her early thirties, thrilled to be working at her dream job in advertiSing. Once a week, she would call her grandmother in Philadelphia using Skype, an Internet service that functions as a telephone with a Web camera. Before Skype, Ellen's calls to her grandmother were costly and brief. With Skype, the calls are free and give the compelling sense that the other person is present- Skype is an almost real-time video link. Ellen could now call more frequently: "Twice a week and I stay on the call for an hour:' she told me. It should have been rewarding; instead, when I met her, Ellen was unhappy. She knew that her grandmother was unaware that Skype allows surreptitious multitasking. Her grandmother could see Ellen's face on the screen but not her hands. Ellen admitted to me, "I do my e-mail during the calls. I'm not really paying attention to our conversation." Ellen's multitasking removed her to another place. She felt her grandmother was talking to someone who was not really there. During their Skype conversations, Ellen and her grandmother were more connected than they had ever been before, but at the same time, each was alone. Ellen felt guilty and confused: she knew that her grandmother was happy, even if their intimacy was now, for Ellen, another task among multitasks.

I think that in the first paragraph, if I get it right, the author argues that we can control the intensity because going from email, cell phone to video chat, the intimacy is felt more and more intense. In the next paragraph, I have a question to ask. Why is Ellen unhappy? Is it because that she didn't pay attetion to her grandmother? If that's the case, then why did she not listen to her grandmother? Is it because that the connection had become too easy, so that she did not feel lucky to have this chance to chat with her grandmother? By the way, what does this have to do with the first paragraph?

closed as off-topic by Nick2253, Jim, anongoodnurse, Robusto, Drew Mar 7 '15 at 16:14

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  • 1
    I think you're asking the right questions. It's for you to provide the answers. (But you might try re-reading the piece a few times, trying to take a fresh view each time, to see if you don't notice subtleties you missed the first time.) – Hot Licks Mar 6 '15 at 0:24
  • @HotLicks I've already read this passage for a good amount of times. – pxc3110 Mar 6 '15 at 0:32
  • Then perhaps you should do your own homework? – Ian MacDonald Mar 6 '15 at 0:50
  • @IanMacDonald I need hints. I'm not good at reading and English is not first language. By the way interpreting this particular passage isn't part our homework. – pxc3110 Mar 6 '15 at 0:55
  • The first paragraph serves to give context to the second with respect to online communication. The remaining questions that you have are for you to intuit. – Ian MacDonald Mar 6 '15 at 1:01

The key part of the first paragraph for me is the last sentence. That will give you a big clue on the point of the second paragraph. One way to interpret is if busy people a chance to multitask (and disengage) they will take it.

  • Yes I agree, both of you are saying the same, which makes this answer seem to be more trustworthy. – pxc3110 Mar 6 '15 at 3:19
  • Your last sentence needs a missing word. – Blessed Geek Mar 6 '15 at 3:42
  • Yes, but is it true? – Hot Licks Mar 6 '15 at 3:44
  • @HotLicks What's true? – pxc3110 Mar 6 '15 at 16:42
  • @pxc3110 -- The first paragraph -- is it true? It contains the assertions that the second paragraph is based on, so it's "truthiness" is an important thing to consider. – Hot Licks Mar 6 '15 at 19:00

Ellen is unhappy because she feels guilty. She feels guilty because, even though she is talking to her grandmother more than she used to, she is not paying much attention to her grandmother while doing so. She doesn't listen closely to her grandmother because she doesn't have to, and the technology of Skype presents her with a temptation she cannot resist.

And that temptation is what the first paragraph is all about.

  • I feel the same way as you do. – pxc3110 Mar 6 '15 at 3:18

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