There’s a new song out by Maroon 5 in which cutie-patootie Adam Levine sings that he’s never felt lonelier than when he’s standing next to the now-absent girlfriend.
It’s a pretty common theme these days. We are more “connected” than ever through texting, instant messaging, twitter, email, facebook, Google+, Klout and a thousand other outlets on our computers, but are we in actuality less connected?
I was cruising around on TED.com and came across a video of Sherry Turkle talking about her latest book on this topic. She makes the case that hiding behind our technology is actually changing our self-image. We feel lonely in a crowded world, so we create a faux-relationship with online associations as a way to feel less lonely – less rejected.
Ouch. That one caught my attention. Do I use my computer more than I should to make me feel wanted, loved, seen?
Regardless of our personality type, culture, language, education or upbringing, we all share the same basic human needs: to be seen, heard, and loved. But what happens when those needs aren’t filled in healthy ways? Where do we turn to fill in the gaps?
My guess is that before the internet, many people probably suffered in silence, unable to even recognize or articulate that they were feeling lonely in a crowded room, on a crowded planet, or even in a two-person relationship. The more emotionally vulnerable may have turned to extreme behaviors, obsessions or addictions to cover that gap, but most of us just soldiered on thinking this was normal.
Then the Internet came along and opened the world to us. It started with chat rooms where people with similar interests or experiences could talk to each other. Then as technology exploded into our handheld phones, we upped the ante and became 24/7 commentators, accessible at all hours and slavish to the ring tone and the facebook alerts. It’s gotten so bad that we sit together in rooms and text each other rather than talk to each other. People sleep with their smart phones and check for messages before they even grumble Good Morning to the dog.
Now don’t leap to the conclusion that I am condemning technology or electronic connections. I mean, heck, that’s how most of you ended up reading these words! We made an electronic connection somewhere and here you are reading something that was running through my head.
BUT… let’s be honest with ourselves about WHY this electronic connection has become just so meaningful in our lives.
One idea raised by Turkle is that our connections give us the illusion of companionship without the responsibility of friendship. Simply put, we just don’t have the time or the stomach anymore for conversations that might stray into touchy areas, or people who always seem to drain our limited energy, or who might ask questions we’re not prepared to answer.
The larger question we should ask ourselves is this: Do we use our electronic connections to feel important, heard, seen, loved? I’ve been asking myself about that. Why does it matter to me how many twitter followers I have, or how many people like my LifeJourneyCoach page on facebook? Is it because I am using those mediums for a smart business purpose and I want to reach more people, or is it because I feel like someone out there actually likes me if they follow me and “likes” something I post?
So as you play on facebook this week and go about your busy lives, do yourself a favor and start to pay attention to how and why you use your electronic mediums. Has the cell phone on your ear made you too accessible to people who should not have so much of your time? Who is right in front of you that deserves your full attention while someone less important blathers in your ear?
And ask yourself if you’ve been hiding behind your computer to feel connected while avoiding the messy world of real connections. A face to face conversation is out of our control and the electronic world allows us a way to control our words, edit our image and protect our soft underbellies. We tend to project to the world who we WANT to be rather than who we are at the moment.
There’s a distinction between projecting a positive, happy image and creating an entirely new image that has no resemblance to reality. For example, I don’t use my social media to complain, to grouse, to gossip or share negative feelings. Of course I have those moments, but because that is not where I want to stay, so I don’t invite people to join me in those low-rent places.
But do social media and texting and having a huge contact list delude my thinking? Do I believe I have deep relationships with people who are only blips and bytes coursing through the atmosphere? I ask myself because I want you to ask yourself as well.
The next time you are tempted to post something or send a text just to feel alive, to feel like a part of the human race, see if instead there isn’t a real person to reach out to and put the smart phone away for a while. Find yourself in the solitude and the quiet so you can truly connect to real people again.
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