“Literary fiction exercises a reader’s imagination in matters of character and emotional nuances.” ~Sherry Turkle
When was the last time you noticed emotional nuances? The reply should be just now, or two minutes ago, or whatever is the last amount of time you spent in the room with another person. Every second we stand before another person we are giving off emotional cues about our inner, unspoken feelings that add to the conversation and our ability to build empathy. That is totally lost in the digital age. By spending so much time with screens in front of our faces we lose out on the nuances of body language.
Imagine this: Lets say we are sitting together in a room and you declare “Let’s go see The Shack!” I slap my hand down on the arm of my chair, point to the ceiling, nod and say “Great. Lets do that. What time?” What feeling do you get? Lets say instead, I reply by rolling my eyes, hanging my head to my shoulder, stare at the floor, then say “Great. Lets do that. What time?” What feeling do you get?
In the first instance, body language would show enthusiasm and engagement; in the second disengagement, boredom, maybe even disgust.
Now imagine a screen in front of you and you type the same question to the person on the opposite end. All you see are letters forming the words, “Great. Lets do that. What time?” Sans any visual clues you have zero idea of what is really being thought and felt. Without this type of engagement, where we get to read another person’s body cues, there is only so far empathy can build. It’s common knowledge that using all caps means someone is yelling at you–but are they really angry? Can you see their pupils dilate or their fists clench? If you type something funny is the person really “ROTFL” or are they sitting there stone-face, bored and saying that to humor you? A problems existing in today’s world is that folks are forgetting the importance of being together. What suffers is empathy. Reading body language builds connection.
Turkle wrote of something called “disconnection anxiety.” That’s a phenomenon of when people who are always plugged in to there phones, emails, or computers finally get to be alone–they can’t handle it. Concentration suffers, boredom sets and the fear of falling off the radar becomes too much. Alone–is the worst thing possible. When there is a constants stream of blogs to read, emails to check and things to like on Facebook or Twitter, there is little time being spent on just being quiet enough to understand the benefits of true solitude.
Too much time spent focused online or on phones leads to an inability to take time for oneself. And, if one cant take time for oneself, how can they take time for another?
Something to ponder as Lent continues….
crossposted over at Strong Finds Power
Turkle is on to something and I slowly realize I am making a conscious choice to strive, whenever possible, to make sure all my friendships involve eye-to-eye conversation. Words have far more meaning and connection when there are the feelings of attachment and empathy that can only be achieved by the power of eye contact. Even if it is only via Skpe, the “mirroring” pathways in our brain are engaged and a deeper connection occurs.
Turkle reveals shocking studies. More and more youth in this day and age are accustomed to constant interruptions in conversation due to social media. So much so, the interruptions are not viewed as a bad thing but rather as another form of human connection. These interruptions provide an “out” for things folks want to avoid, and the overwhelming thing people want to avoid is boredom. Boredom is basically a warning sign when you come down to it. It’s the mind is telling us we have to pay closer attention to something… anything. At its core, that’s a good thing as it teaches us to take note to what makes us tick and pushes us to make new connections or learn new things. But if boredom is constantly swatted away by the allure of the phone and the online world, how are we to come to know ourselves? And in that, how are we to come to make meaningful conversations with one another?
This world is too fast paced if you ask me. People want instant gratification. I’ve said that numerous times at work. The “meat” of a story has to be within the first paragraph, or three sentences, lest you risk losing a reader. More often than not, people want to be told what to do, not how to do for themselves. Focus is lacking and lulls in conversation are a bad thing. During the point in my life when I was online all the time, I learned that any “lull” in a conversation committed by me that was longer than 3 seconds would spark questions. It led to more anxiety for me, which wasn’t good when you have an anxiety disorder. I’d worry for a split second that I wasn’t fast enough to reply. Many times I’d have to think before I would type or respond to a question. 99% of the time all I was doing was processing what I just read and was forming my thoughts. It takes me longer than most sometimes due to my Pure O. I think in pictures and metaphors. I absorb things slower. My “lulls” would spark questions of if I was multitasking. Who else was I talking to? What else was I doing? What was going on? Well…. nothing. I was thinking. Plain and simple. If you speak to me and it seems like I am not replying fast enough, give me a second. I am just flipping through mind mind and rotating my thoughts into words. But this digital age has programmed a world where faster is better, and, when people lack the empathy found in face to face conversations, silence can be misread. Turkle mentions this. She writes:
“...people who chronically multitask train their brains to crave multitasking. Those who multitask most frequently don’t get better at it; they just want more of it. This means that conversation, the kind that demands focus, becomes more and more difficult.” I can’t help but think that those who are constantly on the go, and especially our youth today with their crazy schedules, might expect others to be on the go too. That if they multitask, they expect, or assume, others are as well and are capable of functioning in that environment. Where I respond slower, an expert multitasker may be quicker to a reply. How does the movement from texting, to instant messages, to Facebook, to Twitter feeds, etc., affect people’s ability to slow down, form thoughts, and carry on conversations, and can it be done without the interruptions? Youth today are experts in juggling multiple forms of social media. Turkle discovered that, for people in their teens and twenties, the most commonly heard phrase at dinner with friends was “Wait, what?” Everyone is always missing something because they are not slowing down enough to pause, process, think and then respond.
I suppose that is why I love small groups at church. They are highly focused. It’s why I love dinners at the dining room table with my daughter. Togetherness breeds connection. A slower pace creates time to think before you speak.
It’s not easy to unplug from it all though. Just last night I was having a hard time with my necessity to say good night to my best friend so to have my dinner and walk the dog. I kept wanting to flip my computer back open so to be in constant connection. I felt selfish for leaving. Backing away from the world I was so involved in when I am home is strange for me, especially when it’s part of my job, but it’s giving me a lot more power to be a better person and friend. I’m less stressed now that I am offline more than I am online. I feel like I have privacy.
Always being connected in the digital world leaves you never alone and, in order to know yourself the best, you have to be alone sometimes.