With our iPhones and our iPads we never have to feel alone. At least that is the myth. It’s fun, playful, a bit phony, but it works. Feeling alone is uncomfortable, often miserable, for many of us. With our tech toys we are always potentially connected-- to our families, our friends, people we don’t even know and last, but certainly not least, we can, in an instant, find distraction in the form of entertainment.
The inescapable fact of the human condition is that we are, all of us, alone. Even if we re married, we are essentially stuck with ourselves and we just can’t stand it. Turn off the iPhone? For an hour, maybe? That’s unnerving. But everything turned off, say, for a whole day? I don’t think so.
We say we yearn for peace. We say, as the phone vibrates repeatedly “If only people would just leave me alone.” We are kidding ourselves. That’s the last thing we want. We don’t want to feel alone; we love the umbilical connection we can maintain through our tech toys. Parents can “hover” over college-age children via texts. Teenagers can make certain they never miss a beat.
We are starved for connection. Content doesn’t matter: “I am on the subway now. “I’m at the doctor’s office. He’s running late.” It’s connecting that matters. We want someone to care that we are sitting in an uncomfortable chair reading a three-week-old People magazine.
Mark Zuckerberg, himself a loner, figured out how to create connection possibilities beyond anything the world has ever imagined. Facebook contains an unspoken promise: You only have to “friend” someone, anyone, and you will never feel alone again.
Connection, in whatever form it takes, is worth a fortune to us.
A natural introvert, I have spent some periods intensely alone: camping and fasting for three days by myself in the Sierra Nevada mountains, meditating for twelve hours a day for three days at an ashram, a weekend every now and then in silence at a Buddhist monastery.
What was I doing? Testing my ability to be alone, to be at rest inside myself. Strengthening my “alone muscle.” (FYI: My cocktail party muscle is totally flabby.)
I’m not suggesting we all head for the mountains, nor am I suggesting that we trash our tech devices. They are useful: planes are late? We make new reservations. Businesses could not be managed without them. And in our daily lives, we enjoy connecting wherever and whenever we want. We have come to rely on that possibility.
This is our world now and much of it is good.
Still, just as tech tools empower us, they also enslave us. Finding an appropriate balance is hard to come by. That takes effort; it always takes effort to swim against the cultural current.
We need to be mindful that much of this communicating is only a game we are playing and that Facebook and our iPhones and our iPads are poor substitutes for the real thing.
Real connection, the kind that nourishes our souls, happens only with real people with whom we spend real time, time that allows for honest and self-disclosing conversation. Time, even in silence, in which minds and hearts find each other, when we can feel a friend’ presence: time that offers an actual warm hand to hold. That is the best connection of all. That is the connection we truly long for.
Written for Unleash Potential by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com