To Connect or Not to Connect? That is the Question…

My name is Jennifer and I am a techoholic. Today’s article is an opinion piece in the New York Times, entitled “The Flight from Conversation,” which was written by Sherry Turkle and can be found by clicking here.  This article examines the impact of technology on society, and on personal relationships in particular.

For me, the slide toward my current obsession with technology was gradual. I was a late adopter of the cell phone and only gave in to the temptation to get a cell phone when I was training for the Texas AIDS ride, when I would ride 80 miles or more on my own on deserted farm roads and felt the need to be able to reach out in case of emergency. But the lure of technological advancements has grown stronger and stronger for me since that time, culminating in my current “Crackberry” obsession.

I realized the magnitude of this problem this past Easter Sunday, when I was at church with my husband. We had just gone up to receive communion and returned to our pew. There were a lot of people in church that day, as there frequently are on Easter, so communion was taking some time.  All of a sudden, I felt the subtle pull to check my phone to see if the red light was blinking, which would mean that I had some sort of message – be it a voicemail, an e-mail, a text, a Facebook post or, even better, a Facebook friend request! I am nearly helpless in the face of that flashing red light; I simply have to check! I did deny the urge to look that day, but only because I knew that if I caught a glimpse of the blinking red light, the rest of the service would be torture for me until I could see what communication was waiting there.

Facebook and other technological advances have been a godsend for me in many ways. I have a complete aversion to the phone and rarely initiate a phone conversation. I am always grateful to my friends who live far away who reach out by phone to catch up; I almost never make that initial call. But Facebook has allowed me to maintain important friendships from afar in a much more effective manner than before I had access to this virtual connection.

And, just yesterday, I was able to catch up with a friend who I had not seen in years just because he posted that he happened to be in Boulder. These are some concrete benefits of technology that can, in my opinion, actually increase connections with friends and family.

But there does seem to be a downside to all of this connection; I should be able to ignore that flashing red light on my phone, when I am surrounded by people I love. And one has to ask whether all of these virtual connections really add to the personal connections that lead to a truly fulfilling life.

A few years ago, I received an invitation to my 20 year high school reunion. I was excited about the prospect of going back to Baltimore to see people who I had not seen in years. I am fortunate to have maintained close relationships with quite a few high school classmates, but there are other people that I have not stayed in contact with, and with whom I would love to reconnect. As my high school friends and I were debating whether to attend the reunion, one of our friends said that he felt that he was already connected to our classmates through Facebook. It turned out that I was unable to attend the reunion, but I couldn’t help hoping that Facebook made the conversations at the reunion more meaningful, enabling people to get beyond the “Where do you live? What do you do? Do you have any children?” conversations and onto meatier topics that could lead to true connections.

So, on this picture-perfect Earth Day, when the universe (at least in Boulder) has chosen to display the wonders of nature in all their glory, I challenge myself and all of you to see if we can find ways to disconnect from our technology and connect more with nature, with neighbors, with our family and friends. Let’s take a stand and scale back our use of technology in whatever way would be meaningful for each of us. For me, that might mean leaving the phone plugged in upstairs after 5 PM, so I can’t see that seductive blinking red light. And then maybe, with time, I will be able to see that red light and not even respond. That is the goal; that, and reconnecting with my real life. Happy Earth Day everyone!

Some questions for discussion: Do you share my tech obsession? Does this concern you or are you finding ways to make technology compliment your personal relationships, rather than replace them? If you have children, do you place limits on their use of technology? Are there things that have worked for you to encourage your kids to get outside more or to build more face to face relationships? How does this new connected culture impact the work environment? Do you have any tips for me or for others about how to wean off of technology without having to go cold-turkey?

Please add your thoughts! And thank you for reading.

15 Comments

Filed under Parenting, Relationships, Social Media

15 responses to “To Connect or Not to Connect? That is the Question…

  1. I wonder if introversion or extroversion come into play here. I am an extrovert, and addicted to social media. My husband is an introvert and has no real use for it. More food for thought…

  2. Karl

    Hi! I understand people had concerns about interruptions, disconnection from the here and now, the degradation of human interactions, etc. when the telephone first appeared. But Facebook and such are also unprecedented; as you say, it especially helps people connect with long lost friends and classmates. So things are the same all over again, but they are also different. Essays such as yours help us adjust to these new developments, and integrate them into our lives in healthy ways.

    • Yay! Thanks for your response, Karl! You are my most active commenter. Please keep it up! I would be delighted to go back to the time when phone’s didn’t exist, if I could still use facebook, etc. I am just trying to keep up with all the advancements, and inadequately so! Thanks again for your comments. I hope more will join you soon! Let me know if you get notification of this response, Karl. And THANKS again!

  3. Hi Jennifer,
    Just a quick test message.

  4. I was a late-adopter as well. I do like the feedback and the feeling of connectedness (or is it importance?) that Facebook and texting gives, but I also like to disconnect. I think the idea of extroversion/introversion might be an interesting one in whether and how much people like these tools. I find myself in between, so could be why I sometimes love it and sometimes not so much. Have you heard of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”? I think it sounds really interesting. This is long but good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzlCIS072_Y

    • I haven’t read that one, Cassie. But I read “The Introvert Advantage” and it helped me understand my husband so much better. I honestly credit that book with moving our relationship forward, as it helped me understand why he would get headaches when I dragged him to parties and happy hours. And why he likes to have aa job at parties like working the grill or spinning the tunes. So helpful to understand our differences, which is really what makes our relationship work. I am actually right on the border between introvert and extrovert. What about you, Cassie? Thanks so much for commenting!

  5. Karl

    Jennifer, I got your latest response in email (but now i can’t find the message.) And the blog seems to have forgotten who I am. I have to enter my name and email again.

    It seems like lots of people feel the way you do about phones and Facebook. Apparently people, especially young people, hardly use their cell phones for actually talking anymore!

  6. Quirky program…thanks for your persistence. Sometimes I really regret the fact that I don’t like phones more. I get the fact that e-mail and facebook are so much less personal, but there is something about the energy level for me. A long phone call takes a lot out of me. I don’t think I was always that way. And I have friends who can spend hours on the phone. I just don’t have it in me. But facebook, twitter, flipboard…even texting – I love those things! I can still feel connected without giving out so much energy. I wonder if some of that has to do with age…

    Thanks for keeping the conversation going!

    • It isn’t necessarily the program that forgot me. I might have told Chrome to erase cookies or something. The same thing happens for many other websites.

      I just logged in using my WP account. Let’s see if that changes things somehow.

  7. Pingback: Friendship Over 30: Why is it so much harder? | newsofthetimes

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