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The Crush of Constant Connection

April 26, 2012

Recently I was asked to comment on this article about how our addiction to “staying connected” through technology is robbing us of our ability to truly connect with others. It’s worth a read.

I was asked whether I agreed with any of the negatives the author mentions related to constant connectedness and also whether I understand. Yes, I strongly agree with a number of the negatives mentioned. But as CEO and Founder of a high-tech start up, I also understand.

I believe it is axiomatic that what we give others (e.g., judgment, acceptance, harsh words, patience) is what we give ourselves (times ten). So the problem with hiding from others behind devices is that we are really hiding from ourselves. The problem with that as I see it is three-fold:

  • Each human being has something to offer the world that the world has never seen before. If we don’t take the time to embrace stillness and solitude and the discomfort it brings, then the risk is we will never discover what we have to offer and we will never reach our potential on this planet. Constant connection necessarily prevents this.
  • If all I can give you is a quick text or message, then it’s very likely I am never giving myself more than a few seconds of undivided attention. And a few seconds will never be enough time for me to get to know myself. And if I don’t know myself, I don’t really know what matters to me — and I’m vulnerable to the rampant, fleeting influence of digital connections.
  • Empathy and deep thought are slow neural processes; the multitasking of texting while eating/tv’ing/sleeping/getting married are by definition fast and shallow ones. Empathy is required to embrace others. Deep thought is required to figure out who you are and what you care about. While I might be “living” with the illusion of connectedness, I am in fact destitute when it comes to true human relationship.

My definition of a friend is someone who will come get me out of jail at 3 a.m. in the morning. A high bar, I realize, but really, shouldn’t we have a standard for ourselves? The concept of friends being a quantity game to me is nonsense (but then I’m in the process of reducing my LinkedIn connections…).

Finally, I can’t help but wonder whether all of this connecting is related to our addiction to multi-tasking, which is very related to our inability to be alone. Being alone is not a problem to be solved; I think of it as a threshold to cross into uncharted territory and adventure. Here’s a test for you: Go right now and sit quietly in a room with no device or distraction of any kind  (including a watch) for 10 minutes. Just you and your breath. I bet you can’t do it — unless you have been practicing. What does that say?

As to the question – do I understand our addiction to being “connected” through devices?

Yes, I understand. I am trying my car as a device-free zone and failing. I can’t believe how seductive my phone is when it sits there on the passenger seat, seeming to call to me to pick it up, put my fingers on it, connect. I observe myself in this pattern and laugh, cry and am stunned. All.

Also, I try doing email only three times a day, but that little Outlook icon saying I have a new email sucks me in like a monkey to a shiny object (who is the lower primate in this story?). At least I can observe these in myself. Perhaps that is a step toward freedom.


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