Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Being Together, But Alone

I'm trying to cut the cord from my connections.

Let me back track to Tuesday and a solid day of learnings at Cincinnati's PRSA Media Day. The keynote speaker was Caroline Geigerich, executive director of digital marketing at Smashbox and publisher of the Daily Marauder.

She's a sassy, funky gal who writes for Huffington Post and has previously worked at HBO and the LA Times. She lives, eats and breathes social media and was a great messenger with an important message.

Geigerich gave a talk on the necessity of digital detox - dialing back from the super connectedness and the importance of seeking real, personal connections that happen in real-time.

She talked about the embarrassing dinner parties we've all experienced - when a table full of people have their faces in their phones, entirely ignoring the people with whom they're dining. It's something I griped about this past summer - the social awkwardness of social media commingling with IRL social behavior.

Lately, I've been curtailing my use of social media, and it has prompted a few inquiries from friends. "Are you okay?" They ask. "How are you? When can we catch up over a cup of coffee or a bite?"

It's those latter questions I relish with delight.

Geigerich described how she experienced her own unintentional detox while bicycling 300 miles through Vietnam and Cambodia. Left without 3G networks and ever-present wi-fi, she was forced to read a book. With real pages. You know - the ones made with paper.

She also took the opportunity to experience the moment - talk to people, enjoy stillness.

It sounded wonderful.

Day in and day out, we experience constant interruptions. Maybe it's your Outlook dinging every time you get an email. Maybe it's all of the notifications you are addicted to get every time you receive a Facebook "like" or Twitter DM.

A study out of Norway shows people are experiencing extreme addictions to social media. In fact, women are particularly vulnerable to the addiction, which can be a stronger addiction than sex.

Texts over sex? You don't say...

As good as social media can make you feel, the pendulum can swing swiftly, leaving you feeling depressed, insecure and lonely (Media Bistro).

Geigerich suggested I listen to a Ted Talk (below) by Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT who examines human behavior at the intersection of technology and society.

Turkle says people are turning to technology because they are lonely but afraid of intimacy. Social media is a sort of electronic band-aid that allows you to feel like you're connected to others, when in reality its connectedness is a fallacy.

Take 20 minutes today and check out this video. I'm certain it will resonate with you in some way.

Social media has the bewitching trait of making you feel like you're experiencing connection. Click clack clack - I'll send a quick text to connect with Friend X. The text allows you to make a superficial connection that offers no real substance. In reality, Turkle says these connections are investments in isolation.

I started reconsidering how I use social media this spring, and I've come up with a few more rules that are inspired by Geigerich and Turkle:

1. Notifications. I'm turning off all notifications for Twitter, Facebook and most email accounts. I don't really need to know that someone retweeted me. All of those notifications interrupt the tasks I'm working to accomplish, and they steal quality time from moments I'm enjoying in real-time.

2. Airplane Mode (or the Do not Disturb function with iOS 6 for iPhones). I don't need to know that people are texting, FBing or Tweeting me at night. Instead, I should really be spending my evenings in peace or with people I care about. Or sleeping. Uninterrupted.

If something really is a crisis, I expect interested parties will use every avenue they can to find me. And I'm okay with that. Outside of the last 10 years (or less), we've survived with social media just fine.

Some personal time on my end won't kill all of mankind.

3. Phones Down at Dinner and Social Occasions. I experience 50 shades of rage when I am enjoying a meal out with someone, or worse, I'm entertaining a crowd in my home, and I see a bunch of glowing phone screens. I'm making a commitment to keep my phone in my back pocket/purse/out of sight while enjoying the company of others. Similarly, I'll be asking my companions to do the same.

I think my loved ones and friends are worth my undivided attention, and I'd like to think I'm worth the same to them.

4. Personal Email Twice A Day. Work Email Twice A Day on Weekends. Let's be clear here: the tail isn't wagging this dog. I'm more than miffed when people imply disappointment because I didn't promptly reply to their text/email/DM.

Social media and other technology tools are exactly that - tools to stay connected. Just because it's convenient for you to send me an email now doesn't mean it's convenient for me to reply.

And likewise, just because something is your priority doesn't mean it's mine.

But that happy hour/lunch/walk/coffee you want to catch up over? I will always make time for that.


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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

1 comment:

Sophia said...

Amen! My closest friends/family and I, personally don't have smart phones or the ones that do NEVER use at dinners or get togethers. They know how to "Be Here Now" as the 70s Zen book title read.

But a friend and I were listening to music last month and 6 people at a table next do us ALL had their eyes glued to their smart phones. Nobody was talking to each other.

This happens a lot. Sad really. Yes folks connect in a superficial way, but indeed, do many even know what intimacy is anymore. To have direct eye contact w/o being distracted.

All smart phone addicts should read this. I don't even text myself--rare I know! I love hearing the sound of a human on the phone, esp for those I rarely get to see. Emailing and tweets/FB are not enough.