Last year I released a book called Alone: Finding Connection in a Lonely World. The thesis was simple: As we give more and more credence to the connections formed across the internet, we’re actually being drawn away from intimate connection with other humans.
I wrote the book largely because I saw nearly 1,000 students come out to my summer facility in Durango Colorado (called KIVU), and I witness the degradation of relationships each summer as we try and help students break out of the constant need to connect online.
After writing the book, I started touring the United States talking to schools, community groups and various youth organizations trying to shout out like Paul Revere: “Social media is coming! Social media is coming!” and found the message fall on dull glazes from the groups I spoke to.
One student told me, “I don’t need any human connection places. I have 200 friends on my phone I take home with me every night. I can call, text, or message them on all my social media platforms. So you’re shouting to the wrong generation.”
At the risk of being thought of as an old parent, I listened and tried to understand what the new way of communicating might be, and how we’re transforming the culture of communication at an alarming rate. I heard the testimonies of people who claim their Skype, their FaceTime or Google Hangout chats were a valuable replacement for face to face in person interaction. And I wondered, “Am I just missing it here?”
But each time I talked to a new group, it solidified the message. Most people walking through the hallways of their high school, dorm rooms, cubicles of their corporations, or even young adults in marriage relationships, sit in silence when I talk about the loneliness we all feel. It was almost like they agreed in their silence, but were unable to find a place to admit their relational deficiency.
It’s a tough concept to admit, because I believe humanity was never intended to place all our relationships online. We need more than a click, a retweet, or an Instagram list of people who confirm our pictures are worth their time. Humans are being transformed into a conglomeration of social media statistics, and many of our relationships have gone the way of the Video Store. There are new ways to connect, and we should take them and use them. But what of just “knowing” someone for who they are and “being known” for who we are? Is it just too risky?
I don’t believe social media is evil or should be banished. In fact, I think they are useful tools to connect on a surface level.
I do think we’re going to continue pushing for more efficient ways to communicate.
But where are the days when we could just go “hang out” and enjoy the company of another?
Where are the places we can know one another on a deep-messy level?
Where are the spaces we can carve out intimate experiences that build up the foundation of true friendship?
Where are the skills to sit in the void and tragedy of life without feeling the need to post something on a social media platform and instead, simply be with someone who is enduring pain?
As our culture moves faster and faster in search for more and more sterile ways of being human, I wonder if it’s time we step away from the need to post, retweet, or like someone else on the electronic platform. I wonder if it’s time we reach out for experiences without?
I asked a group last week, “How far can you step away from your smartphone without feeling the anxiety that you’re missing something?” The crowd laughed out loud with a nervous energy. “If you feel like you have to have it to be whole, do we really want to live in that space?”
So tomorrow, I’m excited for the national UNPLUG day.
I can’t wait to unplug my own life from my virtual life and take in all the experiences that make me feel human. I can be with the people I’m with, without the need to be with someone else on my phone. I can enjoy the panoramic views in my hometown, without the pressure to look at someone else’s pictures on Instagram. I can live the news of my family, instead of craving the news from around the world.
I’ll post something on Monday, and tell you how it goes. But in the meantime, I wonder:
Are you willing to join me?
Can you leave behind the instant gratification of social media and live in the moment?
Would you post your experience?
I’d love to hear how it feels to be outside the world of social media for a few days, and see if life spins a little different.
Would you at least try?
In the meantime, I will continue my fight for people to be people in the real world. I love being able to connect in real time with people all over the world, but I also know the people closest to my own community are important too. So this weekend, it’s going off.