Would Your Friendships Suffer If You Unplugged?

Yesterday I saw a segment on The Today Show with Susan Maushart, author of the new book The Winter of Our Disconnect. The book is about her family’s decision to unplug for 6 months—no computers, cell phones, ipads, ipods, TV or video games were allowed in the house.

I find these kind of immersion projects fascinating (obviously) so am interested in taking a closer look at this title the next time I’m at the bookstore. But I must say without even reading the book, it’s already got me thinking.

Maushart told Matt Lauer that while her family won’t be keeping the technology ban any longer, the search did its job. After six months without their gadgets, the family is more connected. Photos throughout the segment showed the family happily gathered—around the piano, the picnic table, any three dimensional object. I guess that’s what you do when you have no computer or Wii game in which to immerse yourself. Just stand in a circle and smile.

As soon as I saw the piece I was struck by the desire to try the experiment myself. I could read all the time! I’d get through so many titles a month without the constant distraction of email and Twitter.

But, then, of course I remembered the part about how I write a blog. And, more importantly, how my preferred method of communication with girl-dates has always been email. Cutting digital communication may have made Maushart’s family closer, but I fear it would do the opposite for my friendships. It would stop them dead in their tracks.

Maushart’s thesis in this book, from what I can tell, is that being plugged in ultimately makes you feel more disconnected. I would agree with that. You don’t want to be the loner hiding behind 4,999 Facebook friends.

But I realized while watching The Today Show that my search is entirely reliant on technology. Making friends in the 21st century is a text-and-email thing. Phone calls come in phase 2. If I cut out technology—even if I allowed myself use of a landline or other non-texting phone—it would sabotage my budding relationships.

I know that there was a time when making new friends involved a) meeting, b) calling each other on the landline phone, and c) making a plan and sticking with it. But today, meeting new pals is about Facebook, text messages, Internet stalking, and general online revelry.

So here’s the question: do new friendships rely too much on technology these days? And if you launched your own “winter of disconnect” week, would your friendship search be screwed?


Filed under The Search

14 responses to “Would Your Friendships Suffer If You Unplugged?

  1. Personally I Don’t Nor Have I Ever Believed That Technology Is A Problem. It’s Peoples Who Are The Problem, Why Don’t Humans Have More Control Of Objects As suppose To The Other Way Around. Technology Don’t Control Me Nor Do It Runs My Life. It Don’t Tell Me What To Do, I Tells It What To Do. It Don’t Tell Me When To Stop, I Tells It When To Stop. I Won’t Allow Technology To Take Centerstage To My Life, It’s Never That Important Not To Me. I Believe That Some Peoples Likes To Look More Important Than What They Really Are. They Are Not Doctors, Lawyers, Astronauts, Politicians, Or The President Of The United States, So Who Need That Much Hook Up. [Clue] Only Those Who Need To Respond With The Button Of A Finger. What Matters, Verse, What Don’t Matter, And Family Should Matter!!

  2. Emily

    I think technology is paradoxical in that it both brings us closer together and disconnects us. I think the rule for which it does is based on geography. If a relationship is one where you are in close proximity (like a family that lives under 1 roof), then technology disconnects us because it distracts us from the people who are right in front of us. But for relationships where you are not in close proximity (like long-distance close friends or new friends who, to continue the geographical analyogy, haven’t yet moved into our inner circle of friends), technology helps draw us closer together. I think the idea of unplugging is fabulous for a family unit, but there must be a consideration of what it does to relationships outside the family’s home. Perhaps a more practical solution would be to unplug for a certain set of hours every single day – that way you get the benefits of focusing on the people right in front of you (including yourself – for hobbies like reading), but don’t lose the benefits technology has to offer other relationships.

    • Ana

      Well put Emily! I agree completely with that—technology is good for forming those connections, and maybe even for keeping them intact when you cannot (because of distance or other circumstances) have more low-tech communication. But for those connections to really grow stronger and feel nurtured, there needs to be at least some periods of 100% engagement with the person—whether it be a friend, a child, a spouse, a family member. When you are clicking away on your phone or laptop and we are also trying to have a conversation, your attention is NOT 100% on me(no matter what my husband insists!).

      In other ways, its great to facebook or text a new friend; just don’t do it when you’re having dinner with an old friend!

  3. diana

    email is so conveniant….i don’t have the time/energy to yak on the phone and no clue how to text…..by email my friends and i are always up to date…as sad as it sounds my friendships would suffer

  4. Annie

    A friend of mine decided she was done with facebook and recently deleted her account.She wanted more genuine contact with her friends. She still has email, internet, cell phone and all of that, but now people call her to find out how she is and to talk to her rather than just look for her facebook status.

  5. anonymous

    I just think it’s curious that phones of any kind do not count as “technology.” Heehee. I think we should all try a little experiment: snail mail! That would certainly slow the pace of life down a bit!
    My friendships would suffer dramatically if I cut out computer-based technology. Maybe the fact that I’m so dependent on it a good enough reason to try and figure out how to connect without the use of technology.

  6. Shannon

    I really think if I deleted my Facebook account it would have almost no effect on my friendships. I would have to send a few more e-mails to out-of-town friends, but that’s about it. I really think Facebook is pretty shallow and a waste of time. Yeah, I know a little bit more about what’s going on in my friends lives. But I rarely find out anything meaningful, and it is definitely not a replacement for face-to-face interaction. I have to be on Facebook because I work in PR and I kind of like it because it is an easy place to find people instead of keeping up with e-mails. But I often think if it just went away, I would be fine.

    I have an old phone, so I really don’t text. Recently, I have felt like there were times when being able to text would be a good thing, but I still think it’s of limited use to me.

    But e-mail. That I love. I am trying to get back to picking up the phone and calling more often. But I think e-mail is such a convenient way to communicate and keep in touch.

    I do want to read this book though. Thanks for the post.

  7. I couldn’t/wouldn’t disconnect. Then again maybe my story is a little different. As a deaf woman these various outlets connect me to a world I might otherwise be ‘disconnected’ to in life. Texting makes it possible for me to communicate with friends and family alike. In many situations someone getting to know me online has opened the doors, for a more understanding friendship when I meet them offline.

    People tend to be nervous and unsure how to communicate with me on a first time meet and greet (fortunately I do read lips rather well). Online gives them an idea what to expect and relaxes the atmosphere.

    For some all this technology might leave a bad taste in their mouth. For people like me…it opens doors like never before. (Hugs)Indigo

  8. Suzannah

    I think the basis of all personal relationships are the same….we are emotionally engaged with the people we SPEAK with or spend face to face time with….so if technology can simply arranging that, Great…
    Otherwise, it is an illusion…of intimacy. So like all illusion there is a feeling of emptiness.

  9. I’m not very technologically savvy, but the only way I keep in touch with my childhood friends is through fb. So I can’t see myself doing a disconnect.

    I love reading, however you can’t whip out a book and read in a pointless meeting but you can blog surf 🙂

    I still haven’t understood the lure of twitter though!

  10. hmmm definitely very interesting. Some friends I have made are strictly online, so no I wouldn’t disconnect. Buth then again I could care less about facebook or twitter. Just not my thing. If you want to see me bad enough you have my email or phone number 🙂

  11. Laura

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately. My BFF is on the other side of the country, and for whatever reason started a FB/ social media ban 6 months ago. She stills checks her email occasionally, but not as often as I would like. I find it so hard to keep in touch with her these days with the time difference, and us both being busy. It’s hard to keep track of what she is up to, and everyone keeps asking if she has fallen off the edge of the earth. I guess people just expect you to be online these days, and if that is how you are used to communicating with someone, it’s hard when that stops abruptly.

  12. Erica

    I’ve read about other such temporary withdrawals from the modern world, and they always strike me as gimmicky and pointless. Facebook is not evil; nor is email or television or texting or whatever technology is being reviled in a given case. It’s a tool that can be used well or poorly, overused, even abused. It’s possible to develop dependencies on these tools because they’re so accessible, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing in controlled doses. Everyone needs relaxing outlets; the important thing is to be aware of whether they are serving or distracting from one’s ultimate goals.

    I also take a bit of offense at the idea that technology is isolating because it directly contradicts my own experience. Many of my closest relationships are with people who don’t live in my city, or who live barely-in-my-city (read: Brooklyn), so while it’s great to see each other in person when we can, the bulk of our friendships are conducted through technology. Without technology, I wouldn’t magically live in the same place as all my friends; I simply wouldn’t have those people as friends anymore. You can blame the transience modern life, but this is not a new phenomenon; both of my parents (and, I think, much of their generation) moved away from home to attend college and then changed cities twice more before settling down, and while it’s impossible to know how close I’ll be to my long-distance friends when I’m their age, I don’t think I’m likely to be as isolated as they are.

    It’s also important to note that people have been decrying the evils of technology for as long as they’ve been using the word “technology”, and that a family without the internet is not exactly a new or revolutionary phenomenon; it’s exactly what every family looked like until about twenty years ago.

  13. Pingback: When Your Only Communication is Online | MWF Seeking BFF

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