On Being Connected, But Feeling Alone

alone

Last year I picked up Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, an MIT technology and society professor. I was drawn to the book based off a review on NPR, but also timing in my life as I settled into my 30s.

“Consider Facebook—it’s human contact, only easier to engage with and easier to avoid. Developing technology promises closeness. Sometimes it delivers, but much of our modern life leaves us less connected with people and more connected to simulations of them.”

I was feeling alone at a time in which I was perhaps more connected than ever before. While I could quickly look-up and cross reference my friends and acquaintances on any given social network, I felt that friendly conversations had given way to Facebook status updates. Yes, I knew which of my friends now had babies, and even posed a higher awareness of their birthdays. But I had met few of these important parts of my friend’s new lives, and rarely was a birthday celebrated in person, or even with a phone call.

Since, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in feeling alone.

“We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”

More than a year after her book was published, Sherry Turkle was recently featured in the New York Times’ Sunday Review Opinions section. She discussed the nuances of the modern behaviors that create this feeling of being alone while being increasingly connected.

  • Prater blasted out on Twitter, with meaning distilled down (limited?) to 142 characters.
  • Facebook status updates posted with photos of smiling faces, but with no description or story to share
  • Shared meals spent checking-in and sharing time with others online instead
  • Commuting while engrossed in one’s own individual auditory experience, disconnecting from the visual, olfactory, and tactical one shared with others around them
  • Engaging and conversing in-person while simultaneously texting others, connecting with others virtually by temporarily disconnecting from those present

It’s as if we are saying “Look at me, I matter” while simultaneously failing to look at someone else, and tell them they matter.

“As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters.”

Turning the mirror on myself, I am not without sin. The behaviors listed above are the very complaints voiced by friends and family about me. I’ve tried to make adjustments.

  • making meal times “no device” zones
  • placing my mobile device onto “silent” while in-person with others
  • tuning out of connected technology all together while exercising

Yet the lull of instant connection over time-consuming conversation is strong. The rationalizing begins, often ending in that quick text reply or Facebook check-in. Even now reading this post, both you and I sit in front of a screen — connected, yet alone.

“We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.”

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6 thoughts on “On Being Connected, But Feeling Alone

  1. Well said and so poignant. Reading this really makes you want to reach out to people for offline dialogue. Looking forward to talking with you again someday in the non-virtual world.

    • Thanks for the comment. Are you thinking about the Southern Bicycle League Covington Century Ride Aug 4? 15, 30, 60, and 100 mile options

  2. Hey – I loved your post. Yes we’re connected, but our senses, bodies and spirits are numbed by our individualistic, narcissistic me-me-me culture. It really doesn’t help us when we come to make real human connection – and so we are more scared than ever of each other hiding behind our virtual masks. Facebook friends are an illusion. Yes there’s a place of course, but here’s to yes to being present with people rather than multi-tasking them in some virtual fast-food chase (I don’t feel that strongly about this then! 🙂 ) Nothing substitutes for breathe and touch…

    • Duncan: Thanks for your comment. I think it *does* help us to make a real human connection; perhaps we just don’t realize or accept the importance of it.

  3. David, I quit Facebook…haven’t missed it for a second. Life is short…be careful of how you spend your time and who you spend your time with.

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