There has been a viral share-a-thon on Facebook for the past week or so. All of a sudden, there are status updates everywhere – “8 (or whatever number) things you didn’t know about me” and the like. I have been reading these, bemused, refusing to “like” any update for fear that I will get a number and invited to join in – and secretly I would love someone to want to know things about me.
As I read through the status updates, I find myself learning things about people who I didn’t already know. Until today, I have never been so completely startled and awed by what I wrote. That’s right – it was awe-inspiring. Not what she wrote exactly, although she sounds wicked cool. It was the fact that I didn’t know any one of the things on that list. Not a single thing. I had an idea of who she was, mostly from going to high school with her, and today I learned that I had no idea who she was.
This realization inspired me to write a piece on how connected we are. I have 346 friends on Facebook – and I can guarantee that for the vast majority of them – I don’t know what city they live in. I have never had a meal with them and don’t know their favorite color. Even some of my friends-friends – there are things that I learn about them every day. Especially with Dave, and I live with him for god’s sake!
Part of it has to do with how we spend time together. I suppose that you would never know someone’s favorite color if you never asked, unless you were paying close attention to what color they wore a lot or the color of their car or purse or bed set. It’s impossible to know someone’s favorite food unless you dine with them so many times that you notice a pattern of behavior. What are we really learning about people when we spend time with them gossiping or texting other people while we are with them? What use is a status update as opposed to a face-to-face conversation of substance?
It appears as though this influx of technology has a dual purpose: it plugs us in to the world – with endless limits. But – it also unplugs us from the present moment and opportunity. We drift through time and space, plugged in but not turned on.
Even with myself – I choose to sit at my laptop on my day off and Google things. I like to have my nose in a book, or watch a movie, or scroll through the same Facebook news feed ten million times. On the other end of all of that… a bounty of information and entertainment, but am I really living?
Probably the best thing I do, when I am plugged in, is write. Even as I sit here, pondering the irony that I am writing about being too plugged in while on a computer, it also occurs to me that I am connecting with you all in a very real way. I would just as soon stand in front of a group of people and read my words than have you read them to yourselves. I am reaching out a hand to hold your hand, and I am embracing you with a hug of thoughts and tight arms made of good intention. I am your shoulder to cry on, your pat on the back, and a reassuring smile.
I have no lists of funny animals nor do I have a cute video of my cat. Sure, I have a whole Facebook album dedicated to my dog, but let’s face it: Facebook is just a fancy version of any other chat room. An excuse to post anything you want because you know people aren’t really paying attention. They are too busy posting whatever they want or looking for a link to a list of cute animals or a video of a funny cat.
But here – on my own space on the internet… more personal than a Facebook page… and more me than an Instagram account – this is where I connect with you. It makes me wonder how else I connect with people and how many do I think I am connected to that I really am not? In the case of this girl on Facebook… being Facebook friends doesn’t mean I am connected. Accepting a Facebook friend request can sometimes be as simple as “you don’t annoy me to the point where I would hate to even see your name (let alone a status update about your life) and I want to avoid a confrontation so… ACCEPT.”
I didn’t know anything about her. I didn’t know that she smoked, had intense wanderlust, or read books to a grave. I had no idea that she even lived in Maine. If someone asked me who she was, what would I say to them? “Oh, she’s a friend of mine”? or “Oh, I went to high school with her.”? Could I say she is a nice person? Could I say whether she is liberal or conservative? Even with someone I worked with – and saw almost every day – and talked to – when I found out she is a republican, I was stunned. How could I not know something so crucial?!
But, was that really a crucial piece of information? What is? What am I listening for while someone else is talking? What am I missing because I am too busy thinking up a response to a point I won’t even remember in ten minutes? What am I putting out there about myself? What would someone else say about me? Who am I, to others? The opinion that is a crap shoot of an opinion because while I was talking, they were thinking of how to respond to my point. They will surely forget in ten minutes.
What do we know about the universe in which we live? Where are we plugged in when we’re not unplugged? These are all questions I ask myself, and I urge you to do the same. I urge you to be real with people. Show them who you are. Chances are they aren’t paying that much attention anyway, and the relationship may be fleeting anyway, so show who you are. Be who you are, to remind yourself who you are, every moment of the day. Don’t shortchange yourself, and others, by not only not being engaged, but by not being honest.
As we move into the future, it is becoming increasingly rare that we connect with one another the way human beings are capable of. We are slowly mutating into robots, needing the hardware to use the software. We are not computers, we are human beings. We are flesh and blood, not pixels and power cables. We are soft and sensitive, not hard and cold. One genuine human interaction – even if it is an argument over who gets the parking spot – is worth fifty hours plugged in to technology.