We live in a very exciting technological time. Ten years ago, the internet looked a lot different than it does now, almost everyone has a smart phone, and I don’t know if anyone had any clue how many different ways there would be to communicate.
We have new tools at our disposal to make communication easy, facebook gives an at-a-glance summary of what everybody from your childhood’s been thinking/doing for the last hour, twitter tells us anything in a vast array of details, from what’s going on in Japan, to how someone’s not very impressed with their breakfast burrito. In addition to that, we have skype, instant message, text messaging, every one has cell phones, and it seems like email has almost taken the place of the traditional “snail mail”.
I just got back from a conference called South by Southwest, where everyone was demoing their new social networking site that ‘was better than facebook’, or ‘really would be the next youtube’. I propose that instead of creating social networks, we just socially network with real people.
I never thought I’d be concerned that when my daughters were teenagers that they wouldn’t talk on the phone. But I am. There was a girl in front of me at the store texting her friends who described talking as ‘awkward’. Granted, she was probably just grabbing for the right words to describe a phenomenon becoming less and less common, but still, it bugged me.
When I pump my gas now, I can conveniently use my checkcard to never leave the side of my car. This was created for convenience, speed, and efficiency. I experience a similar interaction at the grocery store, and the drug store, and just about everywhere I shop. I hand the clerk the items, they slide them across the scanner, tell me the total, and I slide my card, enter the magic numbers, and the receipt prints on my side. We’re done, and I didn’t even have to look at the clerk. I can rent movies from a kiosk (redbox if you don’t have it, they rock) and never interact with a human being — great for agoraphobs I’m sure. But not for me. It bugs me.
I love my iPhone, it provides me with anything I need to know, when I need to know it, but it also presents a tremendous distraction from everything around me. This past weekend at SXSW, there were several moments when I walked into lounges where there would be people sitting alone, with their iPhones, because that was actually a lot easier than talking to people they didn’t know (which is actually extremely easy at SXSW). I admit, it is easy to “look busy” when you have a smart phone, but it bugs me.
I think the beautiful thing about life is that we go through it bumping into others. I think it’s the combination of all those bumps that make any single person. I once worked for a guy who said, “yeah yeah yeah” all the time when you tried to explain something to him. It irritated us, so we had a pact that we would always call each other on it. Because we were looking for it, we noticed that we were doing it all the time. I don’t know how many things about “me” are actually things I picked up from being around others. Body language, facial expressions and sayings that may seem unique to anyone who doesn’t know their origins, but they’re not, they’re a conglomeration of interacting with other people.
I don’t want to be an automaton. I want to be a human being who interacts with other human beings, even in the small scale. So for the past few weeks, I’ve been taking the time to intentionally look the store clerk in the eyes, to ask “How’s your day going?”, to actually attempt to connect. Sometimes it’s a little awkard, sometimes they don’t know what to do with me, but other times, it’s refreshing, and they appreciate the gesture. Even if they don’t, and wish I would go away, I need to know that we can preserve communication, for it not to become “awkard” as the girl in the grocery store put it.
No man is an island. We were not designed to be automatons because that is a lonely existence.