When “Hyper-Connected” Doesn’t Work: Don’t Miss Out on Life

April 23, 2011 in Emotional Health, Remedy

This is my second post in the series “Don’t Miss Out on Life”. The first one I wrote last week focused on delighting in the five senses and seeing value in spending time savoring the moments – both special and mundane. Today I want to bring up a topic very near and dear to my heart – fostering intimate relationships and human contact in an increasingly digital, isolated world. While looking up information on this topic, I came across this brilliant Time article, “The Hyperconnected” that addresses the topic better than I ever can. It’s humorous and yet simultaneously poignant because it was written in 2007, just when Twitter was released. The author’s prediction came true a 100% …

“Now that you can Twitter from your phone, there’s no longer any reason to look up at the world around you. Like any good pusher, services like Twitter don’t answer existing needs; they create new ones and then fill them. They come to us wrapped in the rhetoric of interpersonal connection, creating a sense that our loved ones, or at least liked or tolerated ones, are electronically present to us, however far away they may be. But I can’t help wondering if we’re underestimating the countervailing effect: the cost we’re paying in our disconnection from our immediate surroundings, in our dependence on a continuous flow of electronic attention to prop up our egos, and above all, in a rising inability to be alone with our own thoughts–with that priceless stream of analog data that comes not from without but from within.” (Time).

So, here’s the deal: as much as technological advancements have made it really easy to connect with (potentially) millions of people all over the globe, they are increasingly replacing something far greater: intimate connections with our close circle of family and friends. I’ll be really honest with you right now: I wouldn’t be able to live without the internet – it has become so ingrained in my daily life that living without it would seem like a sort of prison … or would it?

I spent sometime reflecting, and came to conclusion that I actually wouldn’t mind living without the internet, but only if everybody else did the same. I know, it sounds funny, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of you out there feel exactly the same way. The internet is such a great resource – almost like a portal to the outside world. It gives us access to world news and events in an instant, provides a wealth of information about almost any topic fathomable under the sun, and connects us to like-minded others halfway across the world. Some people even make money over the internet and conduct thousands of business transactions per day. Life without the internet would really come to a screeching halt … it’s really not possible.

I’m not proposing that we forget about the internet and rewind to life circa 1990. That’s silly (and it won’t happen). But I was pondering some of the problems of technology and wanted to present to you a few questions: How would your life look today if you decided to stop checking email 47 times per day? Or downloading apps on your smartphone that ‘simplify’ your life by making it complicated in another way? Or how about checking Twitter and Facebook every time one of your 1,403 friends updates a status or responds to a picture you posted 3 years ago? What if you scaled back a bit … would it really make a major difference? Let’s think about it another way: would losing 300 impersonal Facebook ‘friends’ or Twitter followers mean more to you then losing one or two dear friends you’ve had since childhood?  How about losing touch with your own brother or sister? Which is worse?

Don’t get me wrong – I not trying to preach, as I am the biggest advocate for social media that there is. But lately, it has dawned on me that the years of my youth are slowly slipping by without me investing in my friendships and close relationships. Humans are social beings but text on screen can only satisfy about 10% of our social needs (that’s my estimate). This is precisely why social media, phones and the internet are so addictive – we are constantly craving more socialization … but these methods are not satisfying to us! Because our brains have been ‘wired’ to accept these as socialization, we simply keep coming back for more … and we ignore the glaring possibility that maybe we are not designed to interact with screens all day!

We have a voice to speak! And arms to hug and hands to hold! We have mouths to smile and to kiss! Remember when we used other body parts for communication besides our fingers mediating messages through a bright screen? We need that. Yes, humans have “adapted” to pervasive technology being infused into their daily lives … but we haven’t grown antennas last time I checked! We still need that human connection …

To illustrate, check out these diagrams below of human communication. The first shows that people communicate mostly with tone and body language … two things that are lacking in the online world and in the ‘texting’ culture. The second one shows that a staggering 82% of people prefer to talk to people who are great listeners (as opposed to great talkers) … but that doesn’t translate so well on screen, does it? To really listen to someone and have a deep conversation, face-to-face contact is necessary.

I don’t know about you, but I am really craving that human connection. I have a wonderful husband and many amazing friends and I’m thankful for their presence in my life, but we are all so wrapped up in our work on the computer that we rarely get to spend time (at length) simply chatting about life and our dreams. At the same time, I am not willing to give up the internet, nor am I able to stop checking email daily. These would compromise my ability to advance in my career, and would possibly keep me in the dark about a lot of ongoing news and events. So … what gives?

As I am determined to figure out a workable solution to this issue, I have brainstormed a few action items to start … they may not completely change my lifestyle – but if I keep them up, then I can at least regain a sense of balance and enjoy more of life offline than online (and with other devices off, like the phone, rather than it being on all the time, etc):

  1. Designate short time blocks (say, 30 minutes 3x a day) to check email, social media and comments. Respond as fast as possible to the most important items only. You don’t have to respond to everything everyone has sent you. This thought is so novel to me because I’m such a perfectionist when it comes to answering emails and giving my input in discussions. Truth is that no one is going to hate you for not responding to an optional discussion. It’s non-consequential in the real world, but it takes up precious time that you could be using to do something creative or connect with someone face-to-face.
  2. Spend face-to-face time with close people in your life (and Be Present). Your family and friends deserve more than a short greeting and a curt answer to “how are you feeling today?” Open up to people who care about you. Discuss your goals and dreams and hear them out. Be present in these conversations – really listen and look the person in the eye while responding. These are the conversations that really matter in the long run.
  3. Hug (and Be Present). Sounds simple enough, but people don’t do it anymore. I know it seems that the hippie in me comes out even more everyday, but this is an important point. Touch is one of the five senses and if we are delighting in our senses, then we need to feel physically close to each other and express affection that way. I know you might have heard this many times, but touch is healing – many studies have confirmed that the sick heal faster through touch and babies grow better when they are caressed and massaged.
  4. Call three friends every week. I have so many friends, and yet, I don’t keep in touch with many of them except through Facebook. I used to chat on the phone for hours on end with my friends growing up; but now, this hyper-connectivity online has almost replaced even voice conversations. I am making it a goal to call at least three friends every week – simply to catch up and hear their voices.
  5. Consider a digital sabbatical for a month. Fasting from all digital items seems so extreme, but apparently, it’s doable. My friend Lacey did it to connect with her newborn, and a minimalist blogger that I follow did it to feel more connected to the earth and discover new places in person. The point is that the internet will always be there – even if we decide to step away for a bit and come back later. Time that is wasted online or using any other digital devices is never regained though. This sabbatical idea is something I have yet to try, but I plan on scaling back enough to a point where I would feel more natural with the detachment from this “hyper-connected” world.
What do you think? Any other tips for staying truly connected and not just “hyper-connected”? I’m always looking for new ideas, so don’t be afraid to share any (even if you think they’re a little crazy…!)