Today’s technology is so embedded in our lives that it is hard to remember when connection to friends, family and the world wasn’t always available. Yet it seems to me it is a false connection and one that is creating whole communities which are failing to thrive. A recent example of the odd place we find ourselves is a recent dinner experience. Post dinner and all the adult kids interacting with their cell phones. Not with each other, but with devices. This is not an extraordinary circumstance and yet I wonder about the consequences of the disengagement.
In the last 10 years unprecedented technology advances have changed how we communicate and interact with each other. So fast in fact, we haven’t really had time to consider which changes are in our best interests. What is best done with our technology and what is best left to good old-fashioned, face to face interactions?
Did you know that for babies to thrive, they need not just food and shelter, but also human touch and interaction? Lacking those ingredients can lead to a physical outcome called “failure to thrive”. With psychological challenges and often delayed developmentally, these babies begin their lives behind the norm. Now, take a leap and consider what is happening within families, classrooms and societies today.
You don’t have to look far to see people of all ages choosing the device in their hands over the people beside them. There is an unnatural silence as heads are bowed and fingers move over the small keyboard. Together, yet not. Instead of conversing about the world around them, their lives or even the weather, the unspoken message is others are more interesting or important.
The increasingly commonplace scenario of technology over people is having both physical and emotional consequences. It’s widely documented about the link of the new sedentary lifestyle to unhealthy physical outcomes. However we are only now beginning to see the emotional side effects to our technology addictions. Depression is rising among all age groups. Our connections to the world out there shows the best sides of ourselves, our oh so happy lives, even though there might be much amiss. Our impression is that everyone is doing much better than we are and the cycle continues as we choose a device over the person next to us. We become less engaged not more.
In person conversations, unfiltered by technology allows for spontaneous discussions and teaches us appropriate responses. In a room without personal technology at hand, conversations about life from big to the everyday may occur. Opinions, thoughts and ideas erupt, and as it does we learn how to interact. We hear verbal cues and learn body language, and are able to grow our emotional intelligence. We get outside of ourselves, connect with others and begin to understand how others experience the world. Instead of knowing intellectually about a situation we come to understand it at a personal level, a felt level. We engage.
Technology and the Sound of Silence
How much are you willing for silent messages to convey your feelings? After the death of her father a young friend’s sadness grew with the odd silence of her friends. Those who did connect sent a quick Facebook message and then nothing. It was as if the necessary chore of reaching out was completed. Some of this is from a lack of experience with death, but some of it is also the ease of technology. Trying to replace what is best done in person. It wasn’t until her boyfriend approached them and expressed her sadness and disappointment in their lack of communication did they rise to the occasion. It begs the question, why.
Technology gives us this odd sense of being involved with everything, but from a distance. It allows for quick hit messages without any followup. It also lets us dodge all that uncomfortable emotion, especially if we are not sure how to respond. Social media and texting give us presence without being present. It is an illusion of being there. Technology gives us the chance and time to edit our words and our image, to present the best version of ourselves. Actually being with others does not. In the moment is messy, and time-consuming, and emotionally risky. It means being vulnerable. Technology gives us a shield and that feels much more comfortable than exposing ourselves.
Making Way for Vulnerability
If we are willing to raise our head and come out from behind that shield, then we will get comfortable with not knowing the perfect thing to say. We will become okay with silence and learn how to listen . It is the kind of communication that technology can’t replace. Body language, eye contact, a hand on an arm or a hug. Huge grins, elated laughter and heartfelt voiced congratulations. Instead of emoticons, capital letters and punctuation you benefit from the energy of the person with you. Energy that actually does make you feel more alive, cared for and connected.
Technology is great for enabling us to do so many things, with and for other people. The one thing it never replaces is real, unabashed in person interaction. The kind of time that nurtures our relationships and helps them thrive. Using technology unconsciously, we risk losing our humanity. Not because of artificial intelligence but because of our dwindling emotional intelligence.
Technology gives us the key to the world, but it is our presence to each other that helps humanity thrive. As you evolve and create this next chapter in your life, I invite you to look more closely at the technology you are using. Consider venturing out technology free and see if that doesn’t both change your perspective and infuse your life with a new kind of energy. You might even find parts of yourself that have been hidden, or relationships waiting for nourishment. Go on, give it a try. And, if you like, share with us what you find within the experience.