I’ve been reading Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other (which is on my TBR—TBR List Declutter success story!). The book shows many of the ways that technology connects us with a speed and breadth that hasn’t been possible before while also highlighting how we can use this technology in ways that diminish the importance of deep, real connection, both with others and with ourselves.
Interacting on my cell phone, via voice or text, e-mail or social media, I can choose to sideline anyone at any time for any reason. In some ways, this is helpful. I can screen out distractions if I choose to, connect on my terms, and address issues on my own timeline. This can help me cope with the overwhelming volume of information and sparkly things coming at me through my various devices, but it also reduces the need to compromise for my relationships. When I connect on my own terms, I’m not necessarily thinking about the needs of the other person. This way of connecting encourages me to reframe my relationships in terms of my own convenience, which takes away from the give-and-take that relationships require to grow in depth and meaning.
This way of connecting also encourages me to label people as “worth my time” and “not worth my time,” as “toxic” or “sunshine,” when in reality, we’re all a little of each at any given moment. Experiencing both the good and the bad of another person is part of how we grow a relationship, or at least it has been. When I can turn this off and on, I worry that it keeps everyone at an emotional distance. I “connect” online through likes and brief comments and photos, but often this doesn’t feel like connection. It feels like sitting alone looking at a screen.
I’m not giving up my phone or other devices, but I don’t want to use them mindlessly. I want to be aware of how my use of technology affects my connections with other people, and how easy it is for introverted, somewhat socially anxious me to hide behind. I want it to help facilitate connection—real, socially messy connection, not just connection through likes and comments on my curated social media profiles—rather than keeping others at a convenient, comfortable distance.
The Robert Frost poem “A Time to Talk” illustrates for me an agrarian version of the way that I sometimes prioritize to-dos over real-time connection even when those to-dos can actually wait. I’m more often finishing a blog post than I am doing whatever Frost is doing with those hills, but the basic idea is the same. I want to do better about walking up to the wall to connect with my friends rather than just shouting across the field.
A Time to Talk
By Robert Frost
When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.