Earlier today, I was watching footage of about a dozen people in the 1960's gathered in a room, listening to a couple friends play guitars, hanging out, singing, relaxing and having fun. It reminded me of something I’ve been reflecting upon for a while and feel ready to express: how the rapidly changing way we use technology to communicate is impacting our relationships.
There’s a distinct trade-off we are experiencing as we transition into this new era of technology. We have more privacy as we filter human contact through our devices, but also much more isolation. There are greater numbers of people on the planet than ever, and we are aware of their existence…but it is also incredibly easy to shut them out.
Before phones, people would come knock on your door. Such an act would now seem like an almost unimaginable invasion of privacy unless we were given advanced notification. Before Caller ID, we would answer the phone without knowing who we would get…risking a telemarketer, an ex, a wrong number, or a family member we were avoiding. And before answering machines, it was impossible to screen our contact. Now our entire communication is based upon advanced screening. We look at our email inbox, fb messages, texts, etc., then make a decision about who deserves our energy.
It seems that social networking has put us in a position where we have far too many people in our life, and many of them linger long past the point of any authentic connection because we don’t want to be rude and delete them from our list of friends, unless there is a conflict. And if there is a conflict, it is easier than ever to make people disappear. No talking necessary. No fuss, no muss. Good bye…block. It makes it much easier to set healthy boundaries, while leaving us less likely to deal constructively with conflict.
I feel as though we are in the midst of a very powerful transition, and yet there isn’t a great deal of discussion about how we are handling it, or how it is affecting us. We are adapting quickly (as best we can) to our machines, and trying to figure out how to make them work best for us. Meanwhile, one of the side effects of this transition is that we have many non-contactful relationships in our life, people to whom we would never reach out if we really wanted to process our feelings. This has the effect of leaving us with the sensation of being “alone in a crowd.”
When communication was primarily phone-based, you had to put some effort into maintaining a relationship. You had to “create space” for another person in real time, which is now often seen as burdensome. So many people are “busier than ever” which is usually true (due in part to being connected to so many friends, many of whom would’ve faded away if phone contact was the only means of staying in contact). Concurrently, the phrase “I’ve been really busy” is the most commonly used excuse for not returning contact from people with whom we don’t feel a strong connection. “Being busy” doesn’t hurt their feelings, but also keeps many relationships in an unsatisfying state of “limbo.”
I have personally found it useful to let go of relationships with people who don’t participate in authentic communication, or continue to be a positive force in my life. Whether it’s an old friend or a family member doesn’t matter because in order to stay in contact I need to feel a genuine bond on some level. I might not even have frequent contact with someone, but still feel an underlying spirit connection. I find it’s more respectful to end a relationship than to avoid someone. Then again, my style might not work for extroverts. I’m an introvert, and tend to prefer maintaining a small number of close connections instead of a community of hundreds of people.
Another aspect of technology that I find intriguing is our ability to connect with people far away on a regular basis. Back in the era in which “long distance phone calls” would cost a lot of money, there was financial reinforcement for focusing on local connections. Also, you could “do things” with people in your immediate proximity. I have a feeling that “doing things” is becoming less important for many people as they become more conscious. Instead, communicating with someone who “gets you” is what satiates the soul, and makes us feel grounded. As we have more “out of state” friends, we are less likely to try to “squeeze water from a stone” in terms of trying to satiate our various emotional needs from whomever happens to live close by.
So where is this all headed? How do we navigate the changing tides of our communication options? I’m not sure if the dust will ever settle because constant change seems to be the way life will continue since technology is always evolving. I sense that the following will help us stay centered throughout this ongoing transition:
1. Reach out when you need authentic contact. Having your post on Facebook “liked” can give you a brief positive vibe, but will most likely not give you the depth you need to feel connected.
2. End relationships that are clearly over. If you’re spending too much time making excuses as to why you can’t have contact with someone, you’re not helping either them or yourself. Our culture gives us plenty of instruction for ending romantic relationships, but sometimes friends and family can become a draining or toxic force in our life…and we need to say “farewell” or “I would need something to change before we reconnect.”
3. Make space for actually talking on the phone. We can text our way through life, but imagine how many texts it would take to cover the information in a half hour conversation! Also, we have constant entertainment options via the web, cable, etc., but if we care about someone, it’s best to put our shows on pause and spontaneously pick up the phone.
4. Recognize that relationships require letting go of control. Characters in TV and movies can give us the feeling that we are experiencing other people, but it’s a one-sided relationship that we can end at any moment by clicking the power button. Real relationships have ups and downs, and people don’t always act the way we might prefer. However, they can help us feel connected in a world where isolation is often the norm. Don’t allow life to look like some kind of near future dystopian sci-fi film where everyone is plugged into their devices, stimulating their brain with virtual experiences. Nurture the relationships that provide the warmth of a human hug.
Check out Chris’s (pen name, Mystic Life’s) book Spiritual Polyamory
Intuitive Guidance — Ethical Sites at LiveReaders.com