My husband and I went on a date Saturday night. And as we sat down at the table, and both immediately reached for our cell phones, I decided it was time to set some rules. "Let's agree not to use our phones at all during dinner," I said. "The whole time?" my husband said, half jokingly. "Yes, the whole time," I replied. And so it was. The two of us, in a crowded restaurant. Finding things to say to each other. And we did. For a couple of hours, we talked. And talked. And talked.
Too often, I've sat in my family room - typing on the computer or thumbing through my cell phone - and noticed the rest of my family around me. My husband on the couch looking at Twitter on his phone. My daughter, laying on the floor with head phones on, listening to music and looking at photos on Instagram. My son sitting nearby tapping away at games on the iPad. In the background, the sound of the TV fills the empty air. No one is watching it. No one is talking. I noticed it recently on a holiday trip to my parents' house, when I saw my daughter sitting at a table with her teenage cousins, each of them with their head bowed over some kind of electronic device. Every once in a while they would comment on something or snicker after one or the other posted on the other's social media account. But mostly, it was just silence. No one was really talking to each other.
Recently, my dad emailed me an article about how we think we're so connected now because of the plethora of technology at our fingertips. We can tell each other at a moment's notice what we're thinking, where we are, and who we're with. We can share pictures, videos and our deepest thoughts, all in 140 characters or less. We can text, email, Tweet and reTweet 24-7 in a world increasingly measured by how many "likes" you get or how many "friends" you have. And it's all so rosey. The virtual world is a happy place where we can post the best pictures of our families and check in from the best restaurants. Where we can show off our latest haircuts, talk about our fabulous vacations and show how pithy we are with our observations. I know I'm guilty. How about you?
The problem is that none of it is real. Well, some of it may be. But in it's entirety, our virtual selves aren't the same as the real thing. I might have had a great time at the movies this weekend, or said something so clever about parenthood, but that's it. Can you really know me from that? Can you really know how I'm feeling, or what's going on in my life? We seem to think so. And I know there are times when I think so. When I wonder how someone else's life could be so perfect all the time, solely based on what I see from their virtual selves. The truth is that amid all this connectedness, I feel more disconnected than ever from people. And maybe it's because we don't talk anymore. And not just talk. I mean really talk. About real things. For real.
I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, but if I had one this year it would be to really talk to the people I love. It would be to take the time to find reasons to talk. And to really invest in my connectedness. The real kind.