These days, we spend much of our time with our attention focused on our computers, smartphones, or tablets. We know what is going on all around the world, but don’t have a clue about what is going on ten feet away. And it is starting to affect our happiness. Studies show that our relationships can suffer when too much of our time is spent on social media networks – online activity. How does that work? Isn’t talking with people via email, text, or blog comments a great way to get in touch and keep up with friends?
Social media can be a great tool for meeting new people. But when it takes over your life, it can also lead to isolation, misunderstandings due to limited communication, and damaging illusions about the depth of relationships. Let’s look at each of these problems:
1. Isolation – have you ever found yourself refreshing Facebook, Twitter, or a favorite blog? Or perhaps you keep checking your email or text messages to see if anyone has responded to your post or comment? We can bounce from one media source to another, hoping that someone will recognize what we had to say. When no one is responding, we feel left out…isolated from what is going on. Then when we post something online about feeling alone, it alienates others…or brings around all the lonely people to commiserate with you. It’s not pretty.
2. Limited Communication – text is great. Email is great. You can send information instantly and to as many people as you need. But how easily can you send emotion through an email? Emoticons? They help, but if your heart is really aching, no amount of frownie faces will convey that hurt to a loved one. I remember when I first started texting with people. I would get a message from someone, and being a thorough thinker, I would want to consider my reply. Within minutes, I would get another text asking me if I received the FIRST text! Now I’m under pressure. I need to respond quickly or their feelings may be hurt! Electronic communications requires digital proof of physical thought, and it can be very difficult to do that. Not replying may imply that you don’t care, don’t have time for that person, or don’t want to respond…when in reality, you haven’t even read the message yet!
3. Relationship Realities – just because you talk a lot with a person or a group of people through Facebook or Twitter doesn’t mean that those people really know you. You are communicating to them what you want them to know. They are communicating to you what they want you to hear. Everything is filtered. Everything is censored. Or it isn’t! Sometimes, you may wish that people would censor their online communications more than they do!
I propose that you make an effort each day to spend time talking with someone (ideally a spouse, family member or close friend) with no distraction, and do it in person. Turn off your phones. Put away the iPad. No TV. Nothing to take your attention away.
You will be amazed at how much you learn about that person in just a few moments. You will pick up so much from their body movements, facial expressions, physical gestures, and and tone of their voice…and that information is invaluable. It cannot be replaced by emoticons or witty internet memes. If you truly want to get connected with people, you have to physically spend time with them…in person, no distraction. The solution is simple, right?