Finding real connection

Every cell phone commercial I see these days disturbs me.

Wherever I go, I find people on their phones, talking, texting, cruising the Web. Everywhere. Everyone. The phenomenon seems to have created a second culture of Netizens who are disconnected from the real world.

 They live for Facebook, where they can have 1,567 or more friends they hardly know. But they have them.  The number right there, that picture is proof how many people care about them. People give them cows, and mystery eggs, and hearts and bundles of roses and click when they like their posts, even if they have no idea who they are. They update their page continually, not wanting to miss the least bit of information about anything, even that in which they have no meaningful stake whatsoever.

They carry cell phones everywhere, to Wal-Mart, to restaurants, even into public restrooms, because they’re too important to miss a call. Not just adults–kids four, five years old. What does a five year old have to say that’s so important she needs her own phone?!

Even clients I’ve represented, who have to ask for court-appointed representation because they can’t afford a lawyer, have cell phones for every member of their family. They can’t let a call pass, either. Even when they’re meeting with me. Because Great-Aunt Beulah’s Sunday dinner plans are more important than attorney time they don’t have to pay for.

People at church use cell phones and Internet access to read Bible passages along with the pastors. People with kids use their cell phones to keep their children entertained in public. People use their cell phones to take themselves away from the world and into a place where they feel important and connected.

It’s not just America, either. In India, about half the population have cell phones; only one-third of the population have access to toilets. Is that really progress?

Amanda at Pandagon cites a TED presentation by Stefana Broadbent on how technology shouldn’t be blamed for the change, because what is happening is actually a positive connection to families and friends 24-7, as it used to be in the old days. Work and home used to be connected, nearby, and everyone worked and socialized together. Over the years the mindset had become that work was work and home was home, and you couldn’t have personal phone calls, or radio or television, and people were cut off during the workday. So this has changed the game rules somewhat.

Redford Williams, who directed a Duke study in 1992 on heart patients and their relationships, found that “Besides potentially making us more lonely, not having as many close confidants can affect both physical and mental health, such as a creating a higher risk for depression and high blood pressure.” The question remains, are these quasi-friends really people who will support us in our hour of need?

Perhaps the advent of Facebook and other technologies has served to make the opportunity to connect with others. I’ve been a Netizen for nearly twenty years, and I’d have to admit most of my close friends are those I’ve met online. 

It could be that, as the ABC article says, “A smaller inner circle among parents also may impact their kids… parents need to demonstrate to their kids the joys of interacting with people.”  We don’t always do that, although we have met most of our online friends in person, and continue to do so. It’s just that our rural area doesn’t always have a lot of interesting people, people with open minds and liberal views about things, that we’d like to meet.

But for me, I worry as people seem to use their phone/handheld Internet access as a soporific, something that consumes all their time while they remain oblivious to huge issues that are going on in the world around them. That little bit of focus shouldn’t be someone’s whole world. I hope they learn to reach out.