Have you ever connected to Facebook after being offline for a few days and suddenly what comes at you is some shocking news about someone you know has recently died or struggling with cancer? My God, it has been happening to me time and again, unfortunately, so much so that every time I hit that Facebook icon to see what is going on the Pavolvian effect takes hold and a streak of fear runs through me. Last week was the absolute worst- 2 wonderful friends over the years left us, and another wrote about how happy she is to be home after a long hospitaliztion, 3 brain surgeries and a considerable loss of memory. In two out of three of these cases I had no a clue what was happening with them.
When I read about Karyn (fictious name but real person), my first reaction was ANGER. I was both stunned and angry. I had just been to the funeral and shiva call of Fiona(not real name) the day before and was still feeling the after effects of her long, courageous final journey and struggle. Both Karyn and Fiona were incredibly talented women, with huge hearts that gave and enriched the whole world around them. And both Karyn and Fiona each had a child with whom their relations were painfully severed for years. Mother-adult relations that were so important to them and yet, in the very end, right before the gates of life closed for them forever, their children did NOT show up. How sad, it broke my heart. We are all condemned to death from the moment we are born, but can it not be so with our loved ones near us, when that is in the realm of the possible?
I reflected on my intense emotions on this. I can understand my being sad, my longing for friends that I valued, the frustration that if I had known I would have, I could have, I should have...but ANGER? Why was I angry? At whom was I angry? That did not make any sense to me so I began to explore it within me.
And then I got it- it was because of my 2600 facebook "friends"! There is something about facebook, and all social media I would guess, that gives one the "illusion" that you know what is happening with the other person, because they are updating, you are getting "fed" the feed, and so on. Even though only a small minority of the 2600 "friends" of mine on facebook are people I have ever met and we know each other at best very superficially, if at all, there is something in the "energy" of this that can put you to sleep. They are all in there, in the 2600, close family members and friends, people you really care about,but the way you interact with them is totally passive and mostly unintentional.
Thus, it is only when "something happens" that you remember these people and they remember you. There is this "illusion of communication" going on, you kind of assume you know what is going on with them when they pop up in your "feed", you might read a post, probably do lots of likes, you see their photos and words in between things (if at all), and so the ILLUSION is that there has been communication.
But there is no communication at all. In fact you probably don't know anything meaningful that is REALLY going on. I bet in the history of the world there has never been a time when so many people think they are communicating but really are not.
Why was I angry and at whom? I was angry at myself. Angry that instead of seeking out to communicate in a human way with these friends of mine, I had let the illusion of communication lead me. It is after all so easy, since we all have too many people in our "circles" we would never be able to "manage this project" without these quick, instant and far-reaching tools. We have allowed the power of quantity to make us forget the meaning of human quality.
I can only think now of the many conversations I would have liked to have had with Karyn and Fiona, the things that I had wanted to share with them and ask of them. These things will never happen. I would like to remind myself that human connection is not about Google analytics, "likes" and hashtags. It is about a genuine exchange of humanity with and between two or more specific individuals. Have we forgotten this? Have I forgotten this?
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”George Bernard Shaw
Hopping over to the Watchmaker
The other day I drove to the next town over to see the watchman. I don't know if you remember this profession, it is almost extinct I think, but the band on my watch tore and I needed a new one. He is the only one of his kind anywhere in our area.
He immediately attended to me, leaving aside his work, pulling out a box of bands for my watch and asking me to choose which one I wanted. As I did that I began to see all the expensive jewelery he had in his little shop-apparently, I thought, he can afford to attend to people like me and my cheap little watchband because he has other people who buy this expensive jewlerly. Makes sense to me, I thought, hope he will continue!
As he worked on connecting my band I thought to myself- how many people like me come in and ask for watchbands? After all, how many people walk around with watches today? After hearing my question he looked up through his "watchmaker glasses", smiled and said: "People today buy Applewatches." Oh ya, I forgot about them. I reflected on how "knowing the time" is just one of tens if not hundreds of functions on our smartphone, nobody seems to make a big deal of "what's the time?", for all the alarms, notifications and snoozes at our disposal. It's a shame, I always liked asking people what time it was. And, I like having my watch- look at one thing, get one piece of information that I desire instead of tons of messages, notifications and whatnot.
My little shmooze with the watchmaker meandered to other areas: how once upon a time people would be moving and strolling around the town center so they would drop in and see what was in the shop. That doesn't happen anymore, he told me, people are really "destination-oriented" and time-starved. In and out.
And then we talked about how important it once was to have a telephone at home, extensions in the rooms, and how those who are today over 60 in Israel most probably grew up without a phone at home till they were close to finishing high school.
I shared with my friendly watchmaker how I used to write long, detailed, emotional and reflective letters from my travels in Asia to my family back home, how much time and intention went into writing, sending and thinking about those letters. He told me how they would write postcards and letters to their friends a block away from home.
It was then I wondered: is this just a chat amongst two “older guys”, full of nostalgia about the “good old days”, or was it something else? Where is the line, I wondered, between embracing technology and blending it into our lives and allowing technology to dictate our lives and “leave the meaning out”?
For me it is clearer than ever. We can so easily lose our core human principles if we are not on top of things, if we allow technology to lull us into “sleeping on the job”, i.e, communicating but not connecting. I want to remind myself to make that call, write that note, get myself out of the chair and visit that person. Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The meaning of connection and not the illusion of communication.