I recently traveled abroad to spend time with friends. Prior to my trip, we kept in touch via social media through shared photos, statuses, likes, comments and chats. Thanks to technology, we were able to easily remain connected and a maintain our long-distance friendships.
While sitting in their homes over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, a stark truth came out -- we were all lonely for real human contact. Although technology presented an excellent option for long-distance relationships, we started allowing this to “count” as socializing... period. That meant that although we have neighbors, coworkers, friends or family close by, sometimes the only human interaction we received in a day came from behind a screen.
We traded the sound of a familiar voice for the reading of typed words. We traded facial expressions for emojis. We traded clear body language for misinterpreted texts. And we traded hearty, contagious laughter with the letters “lol.”
Even more fascinating is that it’s almost unfathomable to engage in actions once considered normal. For example, knocking on a door unannounced or placing a phone call just to talk are actions we almost wouldn’t dream of now -- unless of course we’ve first asked and received permission via text to do so.
When did we become so afraid to reach out and connect with others?
It’s safe to say that most of us are also guilty of disconnecting from those right in front of us to instead be on our devices. We tune out children, spouses and friends to check our phones and computers, just in case something better comes along. We have the world at our fingertips with unlimited options, and all it takes is the siren call of a new notification.
We are notified of anything from someone giving a thumbs up to the announcement of the birth of a child. The sound, ding, or beep is the same no matter the gravity of the message, and we aren’t able to distinguish the importance without having to check. It’s a Pavlovian response, that we hear the sound and drop what we’re doing just in case it’s something important. Most times it’s not.
I will argue that the availability of round-the-clock communications through various channels from friends all over the world, has increased our need for interaction and our expectations for frequency of communications. We have become spoiled. If our phones aren’t going off, we wonder why.
Unlike in face-to-face conversation, there is no enjoying of silent moments, or of quiet companionship. On the contrary -- when someone isn’t liking, commenting or responding, we worry that they are sending a deliberate message. Because of constant opportunities, immediate validation and instant gratification, we have become needier than ever.
When our expectations for communication aren’t met, we fish for it. We enjoy the momentary rush of positive feedback from a new tweet, status update or photo. It’s rewarding to know that others enjoy what we share, but as soon as the notifications stop, the feeling is gone again. The brief rush is followed by a crash. It’s quite a cycle.
Social networking has its place, we just need to incorporate it through balance. No longer should we count it as our primary method of socializing. We should consider putting our phone on silent or in do not disturb mode once in awhile, so we can enjoy those in front of us. We should instead strive for more phone calls, visits, meet-ups and face-to-face interactions. Perhaps we’ll find those moments of true human contact so fulfilling that we will find happiness, satisfaction and comfort. Maybe then, we will no longer be slaves to the cycle of ups and downs while waiting for our phones to notify us that something (or absolutely nothing) is happening.