Wired for Connection

Cutting the Cord on Technology and Focusing on Real Life Connections

I was talking with one of my closest friends the other day about how she was struggling to form real connections and friendships after a recent move. She’d been trying to double dip and start friendships with ladies in her industry; which wasn’t working out. She also shared how she was a member of several local industry groups on Facebook, but wanted to leave them because they took up too much time, were full of drama, and weren’t helping her to develop any real life friendships. In fact, if anything, the online scene was creating a false sense of camaraderie with some...and discouraging her from ever wanting to associate with others.

I encouraged her to follow her gut and quit the Facebook groups that were not providing her with value or serving as a source of drama versus connection and support (she told me later that she did quit several and immediately felt better).

The problem is, we are turning - all too often - to impersonal outlets to form and nurture personal connections. This reminded me of one of my most shameful moments about four years ago with the same friend. We had met for lunch and were riding back together when she hesitated in conversation, “Hey, I don’t know how to say this, but it’s been bothering me. I really need to tell you so that I can let it go.” Oh no, I thought, what could this be? She continued, “Do you realize that you only reached out one time to check on me the entire time I was pregnant?” I was shocked, it couldn’t be true. I mean, I’d been in a bit of a personal rough spot during her pregnancy, but I hadn’t been that cold. No, this was her first baby...one of my closest friend’s first baby. I threw her baby shower. She had to be mistaken. I didn’t understand how this could be true, I knew everything about her pregnancy. Yet, I hung my head and apologized sincerely. I was ashamed that I’d been such an absent and inconsiderate friend. And worse, I had no idea that I’d hurt her feelings.

When I returned to my office, I frantically scrolled through my text messages and phone records, she had to have been mistaken. Then it hit me: the reason I was so shocked, the reason I’d felt so connected to her pregnancy journey...I’d been following along on Facebook. There it was, the ugly truth. I’d literally convinced myself that I’d been present for my friend because I’d been following her pregnancy on Facebook. I was both disgusted and intrigued. I had fallen into the social media trap. I had formed a completely false connection with my friend and somehow taken it as a genuine connection. Wow. In that moment, I vowed to myself that I could never let this happen again. I could never confuse Facebook or Instagram likes and comments with true connection. I could never substitute scrolling through social media for real personal interaction and connection. It was too important.

As our world has become completely reliant on apps and other technology as communication tools, I’ve become both fascinated and disenchanted with the power of these tools to connect us. While I love social media for its ability to allow me to communicate with friends and family near and far, I hate that we’ve made it a substitute for personal interaction. Though I appreciate the convenience of dating apps that help us connect with people we may have never met otherwise, I’m off put by the near gamification of romance they’ve seemed to cause. Although I love the convenience of texting with a friend throughout the day; there is no replacement for hearing the voice of someone you care about on the phone.

Yet, we’ve continued to allow and embrace these conveniences at the cost of forging real, personal connection. Do I think that social media and technology can be used for good, that they can be an amazing tool for relationship building? Absolutely. Do I think that most people are given (or take the initiative to build) the skills they need to use these tools appropriately and still form great, real, in-person connections? Not really. Though I do have faith that we can do better, this reality makes me tremendously sad.

A few months back, I listened to an interview with Simon Sinek about Millennials in the workplace (while I recommend watching/listening to the entire interview, the soundbite that got me is at about 15:00). In the interview, Sinek talks about how our use of social media and technology is like any other addictive substance. It causes our brains to release dopamine, giving us a rush. Sinek goes on to talk about the the worst and best case scenarios for those who turn to social media for pleasure and connection. The worst case scenario being suicide and depression. The best case scenario - get ready - being that we’ll have an entire population, “growing up and going through life and just never really finding joy.” I remember being in my bathroom, getting ready for work, thinking deeply about what he’d just said. My eyes filled with tears (if you know me, this is no surprise as life epiffanies tend to have this effect on me). I’d been in a place in life that was void of joy, and am in a place now where I find it daily...I could not imagine being stuck in that joyless place forever. My heart ached at the thought that attaining joy might become a distant hope for so many. I wanted better for my peers and those in generations after me. In that moment, I remember thinking, whatever it is that I do in this life, I’ll consider it a success if I can - in any way - help others avoid this fate of hopelessness and sadness. The thought of this reality has weighed heavy on my heart since. I’ve watched that Simon Sinek interview several times, each time feeling the same gut-wrenching sadness when imagining the reality he speaks of. Dismally, I know it’s a reality that’s already in place for many.

So, in a world with communicating via technology and various social media is an acceptable norm, how do we remind and retrain ourselves to form true, meaningful, fulfilling, relationships? We have to purpose to do better. We have to stop putting our phones on the table in meetings and at lunches. We have to stop scrolling and start meeting up in person. We have to stop “liking” and commenting and texting like it is our only form of communication and start picking up the phone.

I get it, it’s hard. It takes effort. It’s sometimes uncomfortable or inconvenient. Sometimes you just don’t feel like talking. I’ve been there, but I’ve made up my mind that I can’t let “sometimes” turn into “always.” Because, it’s in the intimacy of a phone call or a face-to-face interaction that we are able to truly connect and form real, meaningful, vulnerable, beautiful, important connections. Here’s the thing, I’m guilty too. I’ve silenced phone calls only to start a text conversation, I’ve scrolled social media mindlessly instead of meeting up. But, doing better doesn’t mean we can’t still do those things. It simply means committing to picking up the phone more often; to being both the instigator and the willing participant in the process of forming true connection with others. It’s what we’re wired for, but what we all compromise more often that any of us would probably like to admit.