Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Are We Too Plugged In? (Take the Challenge and See!)

Sitting in city traffic the other day, I watched 10 people in a one block radius on their cell phones. Texting. Chatting. Listening to music. The day was sunny, flower boxes were in full bloom, and the breeze just right. Yet, no one seemed to notice. Nor did they notice the kid that took a tumble, the homeless man begging for change, or the police car that came zooming through the intersection. Everyone was plugged in, but to what actually?

It seems every week a new application shows up for cell phones. Laptops (now IPads) can fit into purses. We carry IPods with 10,000 plus songs (we'll honestly never get through). We can Facebook, Instagram, and Tweet from the super market line if we choose to. But in all honesty, why do we want to? At a time when vehicles of communication are most plenteous, ironically, intimate "person to person" communication seems to be suffering the most. Spouses will share their thoughts via status messages all day, yet struggle to utter two words to their mates when they get home. We'll e-mail 20 messages to friends, yet not open our mouths to speak to the neighbor we've lived next door to for five years. How about watching two people on a date, both checking messages during dinner? Or watching parents engage in full lectures to their children by text? We think we're opening ourselves up to new forms of expression through the use of technology, but slowly we're closing ourselves off from any true intimacy that every human needs. Want proof? This family photo below surfaced on Facebook and speaks volumes to how technology is robbing us of true communication, and we're not even aware.

Even the intimacy we need to have with self is being impaired by the constant interruption of beeps, buzzes, and chirps. The ability to just sit and be--with your thoughts, your ideas, your spirit--seems to be harder than pushing a boulder up Mt. Everest. But being able to do so is as necessary as breathing fresh air. Nothing bothers me more than to see someone reading a book yet stopping to text. Or to see status updates posted from church: "Pastor Williams is preaching up in here today, y'all!" Well, if we turned off our phones and truly immersed ourselves in the message, perhaps we'd grab hold of that one nugget of truth we've needed to hear that could set our whole life free. But we missed it right as we were hitting the "enter" key on our phones to "do our own preaching." Oh darn.

Now don't get me wrong. I too am aware of how easy it is to be constantly engaged in something. So aware in fact, I refuse to upgrade my phone to one that allows more apps and accessibility (much to the chagrin of friends) for fear of being more drawn away from being in the moment. But the distractions aren't just found in what's in our back pockets but what's coming out of our televisions and our radios as well. For even absolute, complete silence to communicate with self has become a monster we're afraid to confront.

I know this to be true from a recent confrontation I had with a close friend. I couldn't hear their point of view and, naturally, the person couldn't hear mine. Tired of the noise "internally" and "externally," I decided to shut everything off--no cell, no TV, no driving with the radio on--and took a moment to replay the scenario in my head. In less than a day, their point of view (that they had been making for a YEAR) was so clear that I couldn't believe I missed it--or even challenged it. Not only did it change how I saw the situation, it ultimately improved our relationship. And it got me to thinking how much we're all missing in our lives by hearing but not truly listening--an action not done with our ears but with our hearts and our minds. A type of listening that can not be achieved in the presence of constant distractions.

Perhaps too much silence gives us too much time to think; too much time to realize we're not being productive and instead are just being "busy"; too much time to embrace we're not as happy as we pretend to be; too much time to realize we owe someone a call of forgiveness or a note of thanks; too much  time to "get our house in order"; too much time to actually formulate a plan to reach our dreams instead of just talking about them; too much time to invest in real relationships; too much time to create a better life. So, we take all of that "too much time" and become too distracted for our own good.

We can and we need to do better. So, here's my challenge to you. Pick a day--any day--when you disconnect from it all (TV, radio, cell, computer). Go about your routine, but without electronic "crutches" of any kind, and let quiet be your companion. Take note of what you see, what you hear, how you feel, and what new revelations (or solutions) come to mind. After you do, please post a reply here and let everyone know how you benefitted from this experience. To quote Bert Murray, "Conscience is that still, small voice that is sometimes too loud for comfort." Let's not fear a new comfort that could be awaiting us in the silence. I look forward to hearing your revelations. Happy disconnecting!


  1. My uncle just texted me today (sorry) and the message read, "Social media is changing perspectives." Now more than ever, the world has more access to our inner worlds, and thus we are changing in ways that I believe are detrimental to our original communicative blueprints. Our ability to properly communicate verbally and in written form is adversely impacted by our reliance on technology to speak for us. We are so distracted that we cannot sit in a room with our own thoughts before we have to check our email to see if someone we email every day has replied back to an email that we never sent. (The definition of "feenin'"!)

    I can honestly say that I am a victim of being too plugged in to the point where I am going on vacation next week and am wondering how am I going to fare without my laptop. Mind you, I am spending time with a friend who I do not see often and only communicate with via text and email. Ouch!

    Thank you for this wonderful exposition. I plan to go offline with no trepidation in order to reconnect...with real life.

    1. Well said, Nik. And you're welcome. I too have had those thoughts of trepidation when I may have to unplug. Both sad and scary. I find myself secretly hoping certain social media sites will shut down one day, because God forbid I just disable my account ;-). It's all definitely tearing at the fabric of our lives thread by thread, and I believe we haven't seen the worst effects yet! God bless power outages that just FORCE us to "be," but so sad we have to be forced.

  2. Awesome, awesome blog post. I have been lamenting the demise of interpersonal communication due to technology for years. Now, the norm is to see people walking and texting; driving and texting; and talking (to someone else) and texting. In 2012 you can walk down the sidewalk or stop at a traffic signal without texting. Really? WTF?

    I have a friend who does it all the time and we got into a heated, heated argument the other day because of it. My position is if you want to chat with someone else, then go be with that person. There is no need to be with me and chatting with someone else. As I told him, "I don't want you to deny yourself even one second of my company." LOL. And, I can always tell when he's half-listening.

    I just want people to be fully invested in the moment, the present. You can't effectively problem solve, or engage in conversation or enjoy the moment if you are tuned into your phone. And, if you want to be with your phone, I have no problem dropping you off at home...LOL.

    I remember when we had real friends and not just Facebook friends; or, real relationships and not status updates.

    Technology is awesome, when used appropriately. the way it's going now, it'll be the death of us all.

    1. A big ol' back of the church hearty AMEN, Lee! I can NOT begin to tell you how "dismissive" it is to have someone half give you their attention because of texting, etc. It really is a non-verbal way of saying, "You're not as interesting as who I'm communicating with electronically." It's downright hurtful. And I too miss the days of REAL communication and relationships. Everything's designed to simplify and save us time. But like I said, from what I see, folks aren't doing a damn thing with all of that extra time they're saving...except finding new ways to waste it. Boom! (in my Angela voice ;-)