Author Sarah Brokaw wonders: is technology crowding out our opportunities for authentic human connection?
Recently, I went to visit my friend Susie. A 41-year-old mother of two, she had just moved to Seattle when her husband accepted a new job offer. Over our usual glass of Pinot Grigio (ok, make that 2 glasses), we continued the deep, humorous dialogue that we started when we first met in 2003. Susie, who is known for her infectious giggle and her joie de vivre, now seemed more withdrawn and sad. Rather than positively reflecting feelings of excitement about her new life – which included space and air instead of a tiny basement apartment and the scent of Mexican jasmine instead of noxious odors emanating from nearby garbage cans — Susie kept dwelling on the disconnect she felt with people.
“When I go on Facebook,” she told me, “I feel that people lead these really exciting lives. And I start to compare the number of friends I have on my profile to other friends. I can’t figure out how so many people have so many friends. How is it possible to make that many connections?”
Right then, I realized that my friend, like many other women, lacked an essential ingredient in her life: a concept I call “true connectedness:” sharing life’s joys and sorrows together, in person. It’s related to, but separate from, “virtual connectedness” – the art of relating to each other through technology. While true connectedness is like eating a really juicy orange, virtual connectedness is like ingesting a Vitamin C supplement. I knew then that reminding Susie of what she did have would have been useless. Instead, I poured two more glasses of wine.
Since that moment, though, I have been reflecting upon the conversations that I have had with friends and the clients in my private practice — and have started to become acutely aware of their general frustration and anxiety about not feeling truly connected. In a time where texting, Facebooking, BBM-ing, and emailing are the main forms of communication, the humanity in personal relationships has been greatly reduced. I wonder: will colons and parentheses be the only way to express true joy after receiving the news about a friend/family member getting married? Or a “LOL” to express the appreciation of someone’s humor?
And what would happen to our country if we experienced an 8.9 earthquake and/or tsunami? In the event of an electricity shortage or a blackout, there would be no cell phones, no email. Hopefully, we won’t need a natural disaster to remind us of the importance of truly connecting with one another.
But at a recent weekend at a resort where I was appearing for my book tour, I was heartened to observe than many of the women there seemed to yearn to experience true connectedness in a safe environment. Whether they were voluntarily sitting at communal tables for meals to going on hikes with each other to chatting amongst themselves in designated “quiet room” areas where no cell phones were permitted, they seemed to authentically nourish each other’s souls by interacting with each other.
There are times when email and cell phone use is a necessity. But I believe there’s enough time in all our days to connect with each other without relying solely on technology. Today, I invite you to take the time to truly connect: whether that is taking a younger employee out to lunch to find out how she is navigating workplace labyrinth, gathering your friends for an informal wine tasting, or even making brownies for a neighbor, friend, or even a co-worker you suspect is going through a difficult time. Perhaps if you’ve lost touch with a childhood friend; write and mail her a little note. I bet she will open the envelope and, with delight, notice that your handwriting hasn’t changed since childhood.
I hope you’ll join me by truly connecting with someone and observe the difference in the way you feel. As my friend Susie might agree, the real world beats the virtual one any day.
Editor’s Note: Sarah Brokaw is the author of Fortytude: Making the Next Decades the Best Years of Your Life. A licensed therapist with a practice in Beverly Hills, California, she holds a Master’s degree in social work from New York University, is a professional certified coach, and is active in philanthropy. The daughter of legendary newsman Tom Brokaw, she lives in California. Visit her at myfortytude.com