Random Thoughts

(dis)Connected…at what price?

Remember when catching up with someone meant meeting in a cafe for coffee and perhaps breakfast?  Or maybe it was picking up a telephone and calling that friend, hoping that he or she would be home and not on the phone because answering machines were expensive and bulky and unreliable; and the ability to put a caller on hold to pick up another call was just a pipe-dream for residential phone subscribers.  Or maybe, you just wrote letters.  Long, detailed letters with an update of everything that had gone in your life since the last letter or visit.

How well did you know your friends and acquaintances?
Now, we almost all carry a phone in our pocket everywhere we go.  We have e-mail and websites and a plethora of “social media” we can use to keep in touch with each other.  To know everything about each others’s lives and all-in-all be better connected.
But are we?
This is something my wife and I have been talking about for quite a while.  Months, maybe years even.  Today’s children have means of contact and communication at their fingertips that we would not have even imagined to be truly possible in our childhood.  And when they have childred of their own, the choices will be even more staggering and unimaginable to them as they are to us.
What is this costing us?  I’m not talking about dollars and cents.  I’m talking socially.  I’m talking about with respect to our lifestyles.  I’m talking about the humanity of our connections.
First, let me get this out there.  When it comes to interpersonal communications, I suck.  There are times when my wife has to drag things out of me that make a dentists job pulling the most impacted tooth look easy.  Extend that to people I don’t see regularly (read: in person on a daily basis), and I’m downright abysmal.  It’s cost me my share of quality relationships.  So, what I may say here is not an indictment against everyone while elevating myself.  My face is in a mirror right among all the other faces.    Hello Pot, this is Kettle…We’re both black.
Today we have more means to connect in truly meaningful ways.  We can still write letters and call.  We can still get together for a cup of coffee on a rainy weekend morning, or a drink after work.  You know, the old, tried and true ways to connect to each other.  We can also send e-mails to people all across the world  If they can get to a computer, we can communicate!  It’s great.
The more we can connect, the less meaningful it seems to be.  We have our blogs, Facebook, Twitter to share what’s going on our lives.  We can give the latest minor update to the goings on in our lives, or we can post long dissertations on all the ills in the world and how to solve them, based on our own values and outlook on life.  We can send a message around the world from our desk, our car, the bathroom, or a mountaintop.  But so much begins to boil down to noise.
Have you felt at a loss for something witty or meaningful to put up as your status on Facebook or Twitter?  Ever wondered if it really mattered?  How many of your “friends” or “followers” are people you regularly interact with?  I have 53 friends on Facebook, a handful I interact with on a regular basis. Others are people from various stages of my life I have added in hopes of re-connecting with them, but the re-connect never quite happens.  The digital media is so full of noise that the connection seems to lack real meaning, and for a majority of those on our friends list, do we end up being digital voyeurs in their lives, just reading what’s going on, or do we actively participate in their lives.
Upon returning from our 10th anniversary get-away to the Oregon coast, Maurie received an e-mail from a person she met online.  They know each other through blogs, and from Maurie purchasing items from her business online.  They’ve never met in real life, but have started a relationship that is more than a digital touch.  This friend (i don’t use the term lightly, but both sides of this relationship have decided to invest time in each other and developing a relationship; I’ll call that a friendship, as opposed to the digital contacts we mistake so often as friendship) was deleting her Facebook account.  This was followed closely by another friend scaling hers back.
As Maurie and I talked about these developments, we came to see that we’re not the only ones who have noticed it.  This “social media” revolution is not enhancing social lives much at all.  Sure, we may get to meet folks from around the world as a result, but by and large, the real, meaningful relationships aren’t happening.  The time we’re investing in them is largely unreturned.  Sure, we may get a “Like” or a “retweet” or a comment, but how many real conversations get going?  How many interactions in the digital world transfer to face-to-face, real-world interactions?
I’m seeing more of a backlash against the social media movement.  Some are scaling it back.  Some are abandoning aspects all together.  My wife has taken the rest of the month off from the computer in entirely.  Her communications with friends and acquaintances will be telephone, face to face, and old fashioned pen and paper written communications.  My mother is taking the rest of the month off from Facebook.  Everywhere I turn, I hear more and more discontent with social media and how it fails to really deliver on the social aspect.
As I type this, the irony of my posting this on a form of social media (my blog), with a gadget that will push it to another form of social media (my Facebook account) for my entire friends list to see, or ignore, as they see fit, is not lost on me.
I leave you with a snippit of my mother’s last status message before stepping away from Facebook for a while:

If I only know what is going on in your life because “I read it here”, then there is something amiss in our friendship. I welcome you to stop in for a cup of tea or glass of wine, over which we can share our lives. Now, excuse me while I write some long overdue letters and deliver some flowers! “See” you in March…….maybe.


3 thoughts on “(dis)Connected…at what price?

  1. Mark! (aka SARboy)
    I’m honored to be in your circle of friends and am always happy to be in a conversation with you.

    The internet provided me many opportunities to connect with people that my social awkwardness might have prevented. For that matter, the internet is how I met my husband. Fully agree that relationships are what you put into them and I gain sustainable meaning when I actually invest my time & presence by interacting with people.

    People can have thousands of casual contacts but as you stated… they are just contacts. Not meaningful relationships. It’s impossible for me to have thousands of meaningful relationships. A casual contact can develop meaning when “something” is shared. A laugh (funny picture or joke) , a game (mafia wars) , a hobby (thebackpacker.com) , a passion. The degree of relationship developed is directly related to what you expect to gain, what you put into it and if it is reciprocated. The internet is one avenue to interact but it also provides you to cast a wider net. Cutting the internet off is narrowing the field.

    For me, I have some that real life friends, some who I would fully embrace re-connecting with if it is meant to happen and some who I like to send good thoughts to just by checking (stalking.. lol ) their facebook page. Stumbling on something that may spark a email or telephone to them. It is through facebook that I stumbled upon your blog, and thus my thoughts.

    I’m awe struck at the speed of how american culture & lives have changed with evolving technology. We chuckle over 8 track tapes, rabbit ear TVs and rotary dial phones with 25 foot curly cords attached. All of those were part of my childhood and completely unknown to my 5 yr old. It is very evident when my son says “Just Netflix it”. WHAT???? He’s five, but that is what his world is.

    For me being polarized to one or the other wouldn’t be an option. I use the internet a lot, but I still make calls, go for coffee and write notes with pen & paper. It is the balance I ‘ve found that works for me.

    Thanks for the opportunity to chat! and I sorely miss our adventure days.
    ~Claudia aka Freedom!

  2. yay! i’m so glad to be one of the friends mentioned 🙂 i am a huge sucker for handwritten letters and the occasional phone call and definitely the lazy chats over breakfast / coffee / etc. i think it’s my neighborhood that’s really made things real for me in the non-computer world. i LOVE your mum’s quote – that is exactly why i got off FB and i’ve found out truly who is going to stay in touch. it amazed me to find out some who i thought i was close to have pretty much dropped off the radar in the past weeks – or had the nerve to complain about my not being on a website that has only existed for a few years!

    for me, my blog is about my incessant need to write what’s in my heart (rather than newsletters to replace real one-on-one contact), and it has been so fantastic because it’s added to my life rather than replaced a contact.

    thanks for such a great post – everyone uses these outlets for different reasons and to know when something is taking away from your personal interactions, and doing something about it, that’s living out loud 🙂

  3. So eloquent, Mark! Thank you for sharing the genesis of the conversation Maurie and I had last week. Really helpful to have those heart-felt conversations in real time, face to face. Thanks for deeming my “sign off” as worthy to be included. I am honored.

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