Happy Weekend, Kindred pretties! We're taking a peek into what it means to connect more authentically with others in a technology-saturated era and why it matters-- a discipline in which I often fail at and need a bit of reminding. So, pull up a chair, grab a cup of something warm, and let's dig in together...
Have you found yourself in one or more of these situations recently?
You accidentally leave your phone at home after you have left for work and feel “naked” the whole day.
The newest season of House of Cards just came out on Netflix so you draw the curtains and cancel all your existing weekend plans.
You’re out to eat with friends “enjoying each other’s company,” but each of your cell phones are placed on the table in front of you like they are a part of the table setting.
You’re “spending time” with your roommate or significant other at home sitting next to one another but are glued to a device of some sort in your own separate worlds.
You visit your Great Aunt Betty for the weekend and find yourself annoyed because she. Doesn’t. Have Wi-Fi. At. Her. House.
You arrive early to a lunch meeting and have 3 minutes to spare and “need to fill the time,” so you pull out your phone.
You’re wearing your earbuds while grocery shopping…
If you’re like me, you can relate to almost all of these at some point, which leads us to consider that it may be time to reevaluate how authentically we are connecting with those around us.
Here are some potential metamessages (underlying meanings/implicit messages) that may be subtly communicated to those around you when we behave in these ways:
“I’m committed to physically being present with you, but not mentally or emotionally because I may have a better opportunity that arises that will keep my attention more.”
“I don’t care enough about you to ‘unplug.’”
“I’m uncomfortable without having a distraction to keep me entertained.”
Questioning Technology as a Form of Authentic Connection
Technology has been described as an ever-evolving, ground-breaking development that has brought the world closer together. We can do a lot of things that we weren’t able to in years past. We can “tour” Paris via Google Earth, have a conference call with 30 other people without stepping foot outside our home, see an old college friend’s newborn baby on social media. All of these developments— and a multitude of others— are praiseworthy discoveries that have in many ways led to benefitting our society.
However, what are some of the things we may be losing along the way as technology becomes more prominent in our society? As technology becomes more elevated, what is becoming deemphasized? As technology develops, are we becoming better or worse at communicating? There are a thousand ways to “connect” with people, but how many of those ways allow us to connect with others authentically? To help answer these questions, we must go back to the basics of face-to-face interaction to help us look at what connecting more authentically looks like.
Back to Basics with Communicating
Communicating with someone face-to-face has a lot of advantages— many of which are sensory-related. There is no layer of physical separation that could potentially misconstrue the message you both are desiring to get across. The Ashton College Blog (2013) states how miscommunication is one of the largest sources for conflicts and ineffectiveness in the workplace, of which digital communication is usually the culprit.
When communicating face-to-face, we are also able to experience non-verbal cues. Are they checking their phone? Do they have a confused look? Is their posture relaxed? We can learn a lot about how we need to respond or adjust what we are saying by a person’s body language (Ashton College Blog, 2013). Non-verbal cues can sometimes be more important than verbal communication. After all, don’t you remember when we heard that 60% of all human communication is non-verbal (body language) and 30% is your tone, according to infamous relationship expert, Alex “Hitch” Hitchens in rom-com, Hitch? Ha! Perhaps he was on to something. We can see how there is much to be gained in the audible sense. What is the person’s tone of voice telling you? What can you conclude from their rapid pace of speech?
Finally, communicating face-to-face promotes physical connection, which can be very powerful. When you are communicating face-to-face you have the ability to put your arm around a friend who just miscarried, hug your sister when she discloses a burden that has been weighing on her, and hold your spouse’s hand when he tells you that he got laid off. No emoji or GIF can come remotely come close to fostering the type of authentic connection that physical touch allows us to with another.
I am privileged to work in a profession where I have the ability to authentically connect with people face-to-face on a weekly basis. That’s pretty rare in most occupations. I am incredibly moved each day to be able to engage on this level of connection. What’s fascinating is how powerful face-to-face connecting really is in that it moves people to open up and go to the most vulnerable places in themselves.
Missing the Point
There was a time in my early twenties when I passionately chose to not have a television, Wi-Fi, Facebook or a smart phone. I was really rebelling hard against technology and all that it stood for. I made it a part of my identity being known as “the girl who lived off the grid.” I liked waving that flag of self-righteousness for all to see and be in awe of how this millennial made it through her life without these points of “connectedness.” I certainly took away some positives from that time period: it required me to connect more authentically with people, I was more productive with my time, I enjoyed more hobbies, I was less distracted, and was freed up to be more creative.
However, I was missing the point in some respects. I didn’t need to ardently revolt against technology and revert to Morse Code, carrier pigeon or even just face-to-face communication. Technology wasn’t the enemy here: the ways in which I used it was. I think I feared more what my life would become if I was so “pseudo-connected” all the time and allowed technology to dominate my life.
We miss the point and skew the meaning of things in this world that are not “bad” in and of themselves. Take money for instance: money can be skewed as a negative thing because it sometimes leads to greed. However, money can also be used as a positive thing when we are wise stewards of it. It all comes down to humankind being an imperfect breed who tends to distort things that could otherwise be really beautiful when used properly. This all points back to my perspective of most things: having that inner spectrum of extremism and non-extremism and finding that level of moderation for you, personally. Self-awareness is key here.
We’ve learned some things but can’t stop there. Let’s make it feasible for ourselves:
CONSIDER A FAST: feeling too tethered to technology? Perhaps it is time to institute scaling back or eliminating parts of technology from your life for a given time period. Maybe it’s giving up all social media for 2 weeks or turning off notifications on your phone or limiting yourself to a couple tv shows per week instead of having a binge-fest. Whatever you decide, make it beneficial for you. Do you.
TELL YOUR TRIBE: consider sharing with others your concerted efforts to connect more authentically with those around you. Ask for their feedback about how they think you are doing with this. Have they observed any differences in you? When dining out with friends, make it a fun game that whoever checks their phone first picks up the bill!
ENGAGE MORE INTENTIONALLY WITH THE WORLD: try choosing the check-out line at the grocery with a human to help you rather than the self-check-out line. Ask how his/her day is going. Greet the strangers standing next to you in the elevator rather than making a mad dash for your phone. Schedule a weekly or monthly coffee date with a friend.
NOTICE THE IMPACT: jot some notes down of what you are learning during this time of intentionality. How did the fast influence your thoughts? What have you done with your extra time? How has this time impacted your relationships with others?
BE KIND TO YOURSELF: the worst thing we can do here is shame ourselves for being too ruled by technology. That won’t do us any favors. Instead, skip the inner-criticism and move towards action. Think to yourself: I’m taking one step at a time to grow in my authentic connectedness towards others.
There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding how to connect with someone. You won’t always be afforded the opportunity to communicate face-to-face. That. Is. Okay. Next time a potential opportunity arises, just consider pushing the walls of your comfort zone a little. So, dear ones— engage more authentically, notice the changes, and stay curious…
Ashton College Blog. (2013, November 21). The importance of face-to-face communication. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.ashtoncollege.ca/the-importance-of-face-to-face-communication/
The above content is not designed nor claims to be a substitute for professional mental health services. In all cases, it is the responsibility of the reader to seek appropriate professional treatment for any symptoms he/she may be experiencing that are interfering with his/her quality of life. For a professional counseling referral, feel free to contact Abby at firstname.lastname@example.org.