I love the convenience of my electronic devices. All of them. From the smart phone to the laptop to the Kindle, they connect me to events and people around the world. Think of all we can do without leaving home or having live contact with another person: sofa-lize with “friends” through Facebook; look up recipes; download books by the hundreds; watch movies, refill prescriptions, and shop, shop, shop. I could go on and on.
But a nagging thought I have is I’m a fool for believing my electronic devices expand my world when in fact they actually shrink it. The Technology Wonders lure me away from social connections that aren’t separated by a screen and make it all too easy to become an island in the wonderful sea of humanity that surrounds me. With a little tweak to the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock,” the tune could easily be my theme song if I’m not careful to balance my electronic connections with my face-to-face ones.
I have my e-books
And my iTunes to protect me;
I am shielded with my smart phone
Hiding in my armor, safe within my world.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock;
I am an island.
As it turns out, I’m not alone. I shared my concern with a friend who’d recently moved to a large city after her husband changed jobs. Other than her spouse, she knew no one in her new fast-paced setting. To survive, she had to find her way around her new environment. Her solution was to turn to Google searches and the subway maps available online. Her dependence on electronic devices grew, and they also made her feel less alone in a city of strangers. But she soon realized she was, in fact, very alone. She knew she could survive her new digs by sticking to technology, but she’d never thrive. To meet new people and make friends, she couldn’t continue to hide in the safety of an electronic world. She set a goal to connect with a stranger every day. Sometimes you get back more than you expect. Here’s her story:
I pushed my way through the turnstile and rushed onto the Metro. All the seats were taken, so I grabbed an overhead strap and hung on. Mentally, I urged the subway to get going. At the first stop, a lanky, young man strolled on and stood in place near me, his white Polo casually untucked over soft, baggy jeans. He wore the requisite book bag of a student on his back and clutched a bouquet of hopeful daisies in one hand.
Ah, young love. I forgot my hurried state of mind for a moment and paid attention, thinking of the lucky girl. I turned toward the young man and flashed my wise-woman-of-the-world smile and said, “They’re beautiful,” eyeing the white flowers in his hand.
He grinned in agreement, displaying a faint light of excitement in his Sugar Baby brown eyes.
Then I retreated, feeling good about meeing my quota of human connections for the day. I pulled out my security blanket of choice, my iPod, and connected with Norah Jones as she sang soulfully through my earbuds. Finally it was my stop. As I inched toward the door, I made eye contact with my young man and waved goodbye. Without a word, he pulled a single flower from his bouquet and presented it to me.
I smiled all the way up the elevator ride to the 14th floor to my apartment—the first time that’s happened since I moved.
My friend’s simple act of kindness cost her nothing but a little attention and a few words to a stranger. Yet, she ended up with a feel-good glow that changed her approach in her new surroundings. After that, she rarely used electronic devices in public. It was much more rewarding to live in the moment, to notice what and who was around her, to ask a stranger for directions. In other words, to thrive, not merely survive. I’m sure we’ve all heard the news that social connections become even more important to good health as we age. That makes it even more important to put away the tools, get out of our comfort zones, and reach out to others.
I decided to take a page from my friend. I still love my devices and the ease they bring to my life. To succeed in today’s world, I have to connect electronically. But just as necessary is the need to invite some non-electronic space into my life. I make more time for face-to-face connections with family, friends, and strangers. It requires a little effort to balance it all. Like riding a bike, it can be a tricky act. But it’s one that’s oh so worth it.
Editor's Notes: Candyce Deal has written for publications such as Working Mother, 1,001 Home Ideas, Georgia Backroads, Mothers Today, Baby Talk, Home Life, Living, Reflections, Marriage & Family, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Vibrant Life, and others. She's contributed curriculum and teaching ideas to Lifeway, The Education Center, Mailbox Magazine, Early Years, Momentum, and Good Apple.