Here’s a fact: I did absolutely nothing yesterday to advance my friend search. Aside from a family lunch, I didn’t leave the house.
I spent the day digging myself out from a pile of emails, a task that’s been on my to-do list for about a month and a half. I did play catch up with some friends, but it was all over email and gchat and text. I played some old-fashioned board games with other friends, except it was through new-fashioned Words with Friends, my latest iphone Scrabble-like obsession that requires no face-to-face interaction with my opponents.
I’m not gonna lie—it was kind of lonely. Not sad or depressing—I socialize plenty, so a day off was fine—but I have to say that connecting over and over online didn’t make me feel more connected, it made me feel more separate. It was as if each Gchat and email reminded me that I was sitting alone on my couch.
Again, this is no pity party. Two years ago it might have been, but yesterday was just a day I chose to stay home and plow my way through a to-do list. But after all my talk of whether or not technology helps us feel connected, it was interesting to participate in this unintended online-communication-only experiment.
I’ve heard social psychology experts say that the people with the most Facebook friends are often actually the loneliest. And now I can see how this could be the case. Facebook chatting is not the same as an in-real-life gabfest. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate technology. It definitely helps me keep in touch with the people in my life. It also helps me forge new connections, like those with the readers of this blog. I’m not looking to go on a techie cleanse (that would have made me feel really isolated yesterday), but online communication is no substitute for the real thing. As opposed to making me feel energized (as girls nights often do), connecting only through technology made me kind of lethargic and grumpy. There was no laughter, just a lot of speedy typing.
And the worst part? At the end of the day, when my phone rang, I hit ignore. I felt tired and distracted and not up for actual voice-to-voice chatter. From all I’ve read about true loneliness, the biggest threat is that if it brings you down too much you retreat instead of seeking social interaction. Sometimes, loneliness begets more loneliness.
My Thursday was a like a microcosm of what a technology-only life could be. The lesson: You don’t have to give up digital interaction, but don’t ever fool yourself into believing it can replace the real thing.