It happened again the other day: when a friend call me on the phone and I answered her call, she apologized for calling me in the first place.
I don’t think I would have noticed had it been the first time it happened, coming both from my lips but also from the lips of others. Just as pithy memes remind folks to never dial the phone (let alone to never leave a voicemail) again, but to just send a text already, something else has happened along the way: we’ve lost connection with one another.
As some of you might recall, I took six weeks off technology and work this summer. I didn’t check email. I didn’t log in to various social media sites. I didn’t write any essays, nor did I work to line up events around my book. Instead, well aware of the fact that I was on the edge of burn-out and desperately needed time to decompress and just be present with the humans around me, I took some time off.
For awhile, it was rather soul-filling to just enter into the moment and be. I read a ton of books. I played games with my boys, fully in the moment with them instead of being all One-Eyed Willie, one eye on them and one eye on my phone.
But then, loneliness, along with a number of realizations, hit.
I realized that much of my life – perhaps because of the work that I do, but also because of the technological day and age we live in – is encompassed by online interactions. I put content out on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram. I interact with friends and strangers, both with those I’m learning from and listening to, as well as with those who are learning from and listening to me. And truly, a whole lot of the avatars on the other side of the screen have turned into actual friendships (even if I do continue to classify said avatars as Internet Friends).
But when all those interactions stopped, it felt like my connection with humanity altogether stopped as well – which is just weird and wrong, to put it mildly, because we’re all still here. We’re still being our messy, gorgeous human selves, even if we’re hidden behind a screen half the time.
To be totally honest, during this summer’s six-week hiatus, I didn’t do a whole lot about the loss of connection. Instead, I asked a lot of questions of those people I did see and interact with in person.
But I also sat with discontentment; I let myself feel the feelings I don’t always let myself feel because I mask it behind my online persona.
When I did return, though, I made some changes. Knowing that interacting with folks online and in person is part and parcel who I am and what I do during the day, I set boundaries. I didn’t reinstall various social media apps onto my phone, but I limited them to my laptop.
I began noticing the different feelings and sensations in my body. If a particular person made me start to feel anxious inside, I muted him or her. If I really didn’t know someone and found myself wondering why I’d friended or been friended by them in the first place, I unfollowed them. I empowered myself to own my online interactions, instead of letting my online interactions own me.
I suppose you could say I chose life.
But I also did something that brings us back to the opening scene, to using “old-fashioned” methods of communication. When a friend posted something on Instagram that I loved, instead of responding to the post and further perpetuating our engagement to solely an online sphere, I texted her. When a mentor from Virginia came to mind, I didn’t just let thoughts of him pass in one ear and out the other, but I dusted off the stack of notecards sitting on my shelf and wrote him a letter. And when a colleague created a brilliant quote meme that spoke to me, I actually picked up the phone and called her.
And, y’all, I didn’t even apologize for calling her.
I suppose this is part of the gift given me, and the gift I give back to the world. Here I am in all my fullness, in all my messiness, in all my realness and authenticity. And I refuse to let interactions on a screen dictate the way we live and work and lean into one another. So, I’m giving you my real self once again, and I’m inviting you to do the same.
And maybe somehow, somewhere along the way, we’ll stumble upon true intimacy and connection, all apologies and false selves aside.
So, tell me: how do you connect with social media and the greater world around you in today’s day and age?
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