Shortly after we posted this blog-post on Facebook causing depression in pre-teens and teens, C.R. and I and a friend reminisced about the days before everyone was in-touch, 24/7.
In the early 1980s, when answering machines were just coming into use (can you imagine–no answering machines, no caller ID, no mobile phones, no ATMS, etc.) C.R. asked her grandmother if she would like an answering machine for her birthday. Grandma replied: If I don’t pick up, and someone really wants to reach me, they’ll call again.
Are we even capable of being this relaxed? Personally, we’ve observed that our new culture of constant contact has changed who are. There are good things that come from this ability to connect. People who are isolated, for example, can form bonds they might never have been able to otherwise, people can find instant answers to serious problems, people can find like-minded communities to share information and friendships, and so on.
But there are some not-good things, too.
For example, being in constant contact can skew our ability to prioritize. If we’re receiving or sharing messages about all the momentary minutiae that occur throughout the day, we lose our perspective on what’s important and what’s not.
We also can lose our sense of what’s private and what’s not. It becomes easier and easier to cross the line into shallow relationships and makes it difficult to maintain healthy boundaries (hence the recent concern over online sexual predators). Weakened boundaries weaken our ability to have healthy interpersonal relationships. New York Congressman Anthony Weiner springs to mind.
Also, by being in constant contact with others, we feel that our sense of self actually changes. We develop our sense of who we are in part by our interactions with others. But we also need alone time, time to think, meditate, reflect, and formulate thoughts.
Now, there is little to no “alone time” for many people. Who today takes a walk in the park or a bike ride or even a shower without making sure they’re plugged in? We don’t want to miss anything! But what are we really missing?
We were talking about how the pressure to connect and the inability to spend time alone leads to anxiety. Experts are saying this isn’t just happening to adults.
Last month it was pre-teens and teens struggling with Facebook depression. Now it’s children as young as eight that are said to have social-media related anxiety.
Have you ever gone unplugged for a day? (Have your kids?)
Once a week, on Shabbat (Friday night through Saturday night), we unplug– totally. Granted we do it for spiritual/religious reasons, but there are psychological and physical side-benefits. By the time Sunday rolls around and we’re ready to reboot (literally and figuratively), our software’s been updated and our batteries recharged. After an entire day of meditation, reflection, prayer, face-to-face conversations (and delicious food), we’re renewed.
You don’t have to observe a Sabbath to take a day off now and then. What would happen if you didn’t bring your cell phone/Palm/IPod to the beach? When you walked your dog? Dinner with your spouse or a friend?
Probably, nothing. Grandma’s right–if they want to reach you badly enough, they’ll get back to you.