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Connection VS Closeness

picture of sleeping birds

How connected are you? If you are reading this you probably either have e-mail or can go online. Do you remember the days before the Internet, e-mail, and cell phones? Do you feel closer to people now, or do you long for the closeness you enjoyed back then? For millennia people sat around and talked to each other. Now kids sitting in the same room text each other. Or they're all on laptops, doing their own thing, telling the others about something cool they've found, but not being heard because everyone else is so engrossed with being "connected."

As much as people talk about being connected, it often seems as if they actually seek ways to evade each other in public. The avoidance might be unintentional, but the phenomenon is worldwide. The Japanese actually have a term for teenagers who withdraw completely from social contact with others — hikikomori. I routinely see pairs of students walking along or sitting beside each other, both of them texting someone else instead of enjoying being with the one nearby.

Though I can't recommend the source of the following as a regular diet, the cartoon does show clearly the unintentional aspect I just mentioned.

picture of cartoon

In his quest to be "connected," the poor guy in that cartoon wasn't connecting with the one near him, and probably as a result, she totally disconnected from him.

Technology and gadgets allow us to be in touch with people all over the world, some of whom we don't even know. For instance, I have no idea how many people who have never met me read my blog posts and know all sorts of things about me. And that's okay because, knowing that my blog is available to anyone with Internet access, I'm very selective about what I put "out there" about my family and me. Yet my blog is a handy tool for sharing our news with people who do know us and enjoy hearing what's happening in our lives.

Speaking of lives, many people are familiar with the idea of the "circle of life" that shows the various aspects that make up a person's life. You can find different versions of it, but here's one I found in several venues.

picture of circle of life

I ran across another version of that circle that is relevant to those who might be overly connected.

picture of circle of no life

I must not be as connected as I thought because there are several of those icons that I don't recognize at all.

Some people are so dependent on social media that they often don't deliver personal news personally. They assume that everyone knows their news because they've "updated their status" online. I guess that's the downside of not being connected enough. Here's an example.

picture of not connected enough

With today's social media, I have to wonder whether there isn't too much information about us "out there." (Have you ever googled your name?) Every day we hear about privacy concerns and stolen identities. How much information is too much? Do I need to know what someone ate for lunch? Do I need to let the whole world know ___ (fill in the blank) about myself? Is everyone as interested in me as I am? 🙂 Easy connection carries with it the danger of feeding our natural narcissism, and that's not something we really need help with. I've read several articles lately on how narcissistic people are becoming. The following cartoon is a good one about that.

picture of cartoon

When Facebook friends find out I didn't see their latest status update, they seem disappointed in my seeming disinterest. It's a simple fact, though, that I don't have the time to read all the news feeds from my 1,200+ "friends" on Facebook. It's not that I don't care — I just don't have the time to read all that news. People have asked me why I don't have Twitter. If I can't keep up with Facebook, why would I ever add Twitter to my life?! In this "information age" we're bombarded with so much information, personal and impersonal, that it amounts to nothing more than noise.

Technology has made it easier to connect with others, and I do love that aspect of the tools. Yet I do not believe that connection = closeness. Realistically, we don't have the time and/or the emotional energy to maintain deep relationships with very many people. As our relationships broaden, they inevitably become more shallow. Is connection becoming a poor substitute for real communication? Are we connected without connecting?

I have to say that just after publishing this this morning, I went on Facebook to post a link to it. While there, I did Facebook chat with a young cousin in France and learned that he and his wife have a second baby, that his wife's maternity leave is almost up, and that his dad had had a pacemaker installed. I learned also that his dad (widowed for quite some time) remarried in April of this year and that the family likes his new wife (also widowed with two kids the same ages as my cousin's two adult children.) All that by connecting with a young cousin who is a Facebook friend that I saw was also on Facebook at the same time as I. Not bad, huh? 🙂 Those who get the e-mail version of my posts won't know those bits of information unless they come read it on the blog itself. But will their lives be impoverished if they don't? Probably not.

I would not want to go back to the days before technology, but I also want to be careful that technology is my tool and not my master. Is that a battle for you too? What are your thoughts on "connectedness" vs closeness? Is my thinking on this off-base? I think the comments to this post could be very interesting.


"Wouldn't it be great if the worst thing those who work with you can say about you is that you're a little too devoted to God?" - Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

Sometimes I feel like I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe.

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19 Comments on “Connection VS Closeness”

  1. #1 Paulette
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 7:49 am

    I agree with you. I have reconnected with so many people I used to know. But I still find that I miss the times when my family would sit around and actually talk. Now with texting, I can go for a long time with out actually speaking to some members of my family. Although I enjoy the technology, I miss the closeness.

  2. #2 Vikki
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 8:38 am

    When growing up we had none of this kind of stuff – just TV to mindlessly entertain us. I think we played together, outside a lot more because of it and were probably healthier for it. I know, with the advent of computer games, our kids didn’t play outside as much as we did, but they did play the games together. Now with texting and the like, they don’t play together as much. Ah, advancements in technology in making our lives better…

    I must confess that I am on Facebook, but that’s all, and only recently due to pressure from our kids. With all of our 4 married children living in Wisconsin, and us in South Carolina, I can keep track of what’s going on in their lives and see regular updated pictures of our 8 grandkids. If it weren’t for that, I probably wouldn’t be on it at all. However, I have been able to get reconnected with several old friends through Facebook, so that’s also a plus.

    As far as cell phones, until about a year ago, my cell simply lived in the car and was used only when necessary since it was about 8 years old and was only a phone – no camera, no texting, etc, and still had an Illinois number. At only around $20 per month, we couldn’t justify the additional cost of upgrading it. We finally got sick of having to make a long distance call (of which we had only 120 min. per month of) each time we wanted to use it, so we bit the bullet and got a local number and new phone. Now I have texting and a camera too. It’s allowed me to keep in touch with my sister better (also living in Wisconsin).

  3. #3 Michael
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Amen. One of the reasons my wife and I deactivated our Facebook accounts is that it just took too much of our time. We can spend our time doing other things that are much more profitable. And, much of what is out there on social networking sites is banal. The exchange you had with your French cousin is a great example of how to use the new technology to our advantage. Great point about it needing to be our tool and not our master. I believe there is great potential for good with the new technology but it can be a great source of problems.

    Additionally, communication is more complex than we think. There is no substitute for face-to-face talking. You can see their face and hear their tone. You can also immediately ask questions back to determine whether you understood correctly. Talking on the phone is my second choice for communicating if I can’t talk face-to-face. These new technologies just encourage us to be lazy and not do the hard work of actually reaching out and connecting to people. Remember the old AT & T slogan? “Reach out and touch someone.” That’s what we should be doing these days. But, rather than doing the courageous thing and talking to people face-to-face to give them hard news, we instead cowardly send an e-mail or a text to protect ourselves.

  4. #4 Alicia
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 8:46 am

    Sometimes I’ve wondered if anyone else feels this way! I love the ease of catching up with old acquaintances and the convenience of our technology but it drives me crazy to see people neglect the real people all around them so they can obsessively check their phones and keep up with all their “friends.” With a few rare exceptions, my rule is that the person I’m with takes priority. I can return phone calls, texts, and emails later.

  5. #5 Becky P.
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I’ve felt exactly the same was as you about twitter! Why would I want to know what 2 or more people are saying (even if it is short) about any given conference, trip, their throughts, etc, at any moment? Give me a break! The only thing I could possibly want would be for my twin sister who is currently on her 25th anniversary cruise to AK to post twitter updates..maybe a couple a day. But I don’t know how to use twitter and don’t really think I’m missing out by not using it. Someday I’ll catch up by looking at her pics.

    I can’t believe people are THAT interested in what others ate for dinner…even if they did it in NY City. Are people’s lives so boring that they have to vicariously live through others? I’m simply too involved in life to keep up that close with others. BTW, I only recognized the google reader feed, fb and twitter logos in the above circle.

    But I do feel closer to many people that I did when we first came here, 16 years ago. I was very lonely. I love connecting with people now–esp. family. At first we had no phone or internet, of course, so life was a bit solo. I prefer it now. But it can consume too much time. But I love being able to keep in touch!

    I also like to go “off the grid” when I travel and remain completely “in the moment” of the travel and not trying to be where I am and back home at the same time. I think it frustrates some, but I prefer it that way. It makes the travel so much more enjoyable if I can actually focus on the moment instead of all the news from “back home” and keeping everyone up-to-date with everything from every day. It makes it hard to enjoy the trip. But I like it when others do. 🙂

  6. #6 Casey
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 9:20 am

    I agree with the post and all of the comments so far. I am sick of people constantly checking their phones and ignoring the people they are right there with. Often, at work, we will all be instant messaging each other when we are only 10 to 15 feet apart and no one is talking out loud.

    Personally, I prefer talking face-to-face, with phone conversations coming in second.

    Michael’s comment made me think of an old slogan from my youth. I used to live in New York State and the phone company’s slogan was “We’re all connected: New York Telephone.” Eventually, they were bought out by AT&T with the previously mentioned slogan “Reach out and touch someone.”

  7. #7 Bette
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I love Facebook for sharing pictures & IMPORTANT news. Many are using it as a “spiritual tool” by what they post…good job. I love the ease of texting to get a message out quickly. Some times you just need a message out there without the personal connection. HOWEVER, I agree with #3 Michael’s post…face-to-face is always best. You can best decipher another’s opinion, emotions and reaction when chatting eye to eye. Yes, it takes effort but everything worthwhile does take effort. Another great, thought-provoking post, Rob!

  8. #8 Joy Boudreau
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 9:47 am

    EXCELLENT COMMENTARY! and yes, i mean all caps!

  9. #9 Gayle
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 10:07 am

    I love being connected with family on Facebook! I’m from a large family of 8 children – our growing families (26 children) and now their children (over 30) can be challenging to keep up with. Facebook has been a great tool and allows a great access to pictures and chatting all over the U.S. and at this point 3 foreign countries.

  10. #10 Karen M.
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Good evaluation of today’s world and the disconnectedness. My adult life was spent in Illinois and my mom lived in Michigan. We wrote a letter to each other every week. I loved getting her letters for several reasons…I could sense her essence in them, the letters were so newsy — no one else in my family wanted to read about how her favorite rose bush was growing — but I did! and I could carry her letter with me to read again and again. In her later years, I began saving letters as I knew I would not be getting any more. Often I go to the mailbox now and wish there was a real letter sitting inside waiting for me to drink in its words, its personality, its love.
    I can’t stand it when I am with a friend and our conversation is continuously interrupted by her cell phone. Ugh! None of which is important. Turn off the phone when you have the privilege and opportunity to spend time with a REAL person.

  11. #11 Wendy
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Oh my goodness, Rob! You have hit the nail on the head with this! I have observed this tendency with my own children and their friends. It has been a topic of discussion in our home and any electronic devices are not allowed at the table and if they hear a call, they may not go answer it. I am GREATLY concerned that we are turning into a nation of no closeness – you have voiced my concerns exactly. I anticipate that if I ever end up in a nursing home some day, my cries will not be heard because they will have their ipod plugged into their ears (or some other device at that point) and if they DO hear me, they won’t come right away because they need to finish their text first. Scary thought. I believe people are becoming too self-absorbed. Thanks for your thoughts on this phenomena.

  12. #12 Carrie
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 11:48 am

    I agree too. What more can be said than your excellent article and the insightful comments. . . Well, my husband and son just walked into the room, so I’d better connect with them!

  13. #13 Heather
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I realize this comment will look like a square peg in a round hole, but I have difficulty comprehending what all the fuss is about.

    Personality and cognitive style plays a large role in how one sees the world. Most of the statistics I’ve seen show that a large majority of the population is made up of people who think in a concrete fashion; most concrete thinkers would prefer physical proximity to an internet connection that somehow feels real and unreal at the same time. The minority is made up of people who think in an abstract fashion. We’re the ones who would sign up for a class in Platonic metaphysics for fun. 🙂

    I believe most extroverts, who gain energy from social interaction, would also prefer close proximity. But introverts, who spend energy during social interaction (shyness, by contrast, is lack of confidence–even extroverts can be shy) might be more open to physical distance. I personally am often overwhelmed by a social gathering; there is so much going on verbally, non-verbally, and emotionally that I frequently either shut down (kind of like when your computer crashes) or escape to a corner to sort things out. But an internet forum gives me time to collect my thoughts and figure out how to communicate them intelligibly.

    But I assume that when you say “closeness” you refer to more than physical closeness. I assume you mean emotional closeness? Here, too, personality and thinking styles come into play. I have trouble with emotional closeness as most people think of it. Similar to the social scenario above, if I pick up too many emotional signals, I shut down because I don’t know what to with them. I have difficulty empathizing with them–not usually stereotyped as a female problem, I realize ;)–and since it seems that seems to be the expected reaction, I manage to inadvertently erect a psychological barrier.

    To me — and to a few others like me — I feel close to people when I know how they think about things. Most of the conversations I have with people talk about somebody’s new curtains or what their kid did the other day. I certainly have nothing against such topics, but I don’t feel any closer to them after the conversation than I did before. I’m not sure how to say this, but that’s the sort of thing I can keep up with on facebook. To really get inside someone’s head, I would be more interested in why they picked green curtains instead of blue ones (I mean besides the obvious reason of matching the rest of the decor!) What direction do you conjecture your kid might take five or ten years from now based on the cute thing he did yesterday, and especially based on his particular pattern of doing cute things? This kind of closeness doesn’t require proximity or even a large array of emotional signals.

    I don’t know how much sense I’m making, but I suppose it does illustrate my point — we “misfits” have the same trouble making sense of your world. I’m not trying to be critical, but to point out differences. But if I had to make a judgment on it, I would say your way is probably a healthier way.

  14. #14 ROY HOOPER
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Hey Rob,
    A great blog post…so timely. Your perspective is a needed one. Thanks for the thoughtful insights.

    “Do I need to let the whole world know ___ (fill in the blank) about myself?” That statement reminds me of a song a heard recently. We do need to let the whole world know, BUT not about “myself” because it’s not about me. It’s all about Jesus and what he did for mankind on the cross. Relationship (connectedness) to Him is of eternal importance.

  15. #15 Alison
    on Jul 9th, 2010 at 1:09 am

    I could not agree more with your post! You have very succinctly expressed many of my own thoughts and concerns re: recent technology, communications, and social media. I have had these conversations with my family and intend to pass on your post to several of them. I love email and so on for communicating with my children and siblings who are across the country and the world, but miss the depth of conversation that occurs in person, as well as all the non-verbal cues. I have also noted that shallow forms of communication seem to be consuming much of the time needed for establishing and maintaining deeper relationships.

    That being said, there are times and situations in which I prefer to communicate by email, as it allows me to process what has been said and consider my response to it.

    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts in this area.

  16. #16 Laura B
    on Jul 9th, 2010 at 8:16 am

    This is a great post for generating interesting comments! The comments have been as interesting to read as the original post.

    Our pastor challenges us each year to read our Bibles through, and this year I realized I’d never have enough time if I didn’t set some other things aside (less news + following fewer blogs = more time for really important activities). Looking at long-range benefits of various activities has been a big help to me. It seems like a lot of the “technology” topics in this post are really a matter of the [misplaced] importance folks set on them.

    Cell phones: had to get one when our DD was staying with grandparents out of state for medical appointments . . . but it’s one of those plug-in-the-minutes-with-a-card ones, and only we & the grandparents have the phone number for the most part. It would rule us otherwise. This way, it only interrupts for important stuff.

    Other connections: we took up ham radio this year at the suggestion of my uncle. Had no idea in advance what a good way it would be to reach out to others outside our normal “sphere,” but like anything else, it needs to be controlled. It was a good way to pass the time during a long car trip recently.

    @Heather~ I don’t think you’re a misfit, and I understand how you feel about big groups. I like to know the “why” of things, too, and I tend to be a “watcher.” As a family, we tend to avoid crowded events, because we have children who get overwhelmed by that kind of thing . . . and “backspace” & “delete” are my favorite keys on the keyboard, because they give me the freedom to say what I really want to with fewer regrets & misunderstandings afterward. But face-to-face contact (with an individual or small group) is my favorite thing. I like visual feedback, so I feel like I’m missing out on valuable information when I’m looking at a computer screen or just listening by phone or radio.

  17. #17 Elizabeth
    on Jul 12th, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    This is a really good posting. Good points and I don’t have a lot to add to what has already been said other than to say I identify with Heather–I am an introvert by nature and get “sensory overload” way too easily. I am misunderstood a whole lot more by what I say in person than by what I write. We live in a culture that thinks being an extrovert is “good” and being an introvert is “bad,” and issues such as these show that bias. We have to be careful that we do not respond to our natural inclination in a wrong manner, such as an introvert withdrawing from people.

  18. #18 Susan
    on Jul 14th, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    I must not be as connected as I thought, because I don’t have any problem talking to the people around me. We are a big computer family, and we enjoy using all the little gadgets. I love connecting with extended family on Facebook, but I still pick up the phone and call my parents. I keep up with my college-age sons on FB, but we still talk on the phone several times a week. My daughter talks to her friends via texts, but they also get together regularly for outings and such. I think maybe balance might be a key to using technology, at least for our family. Good post!

  19. #19 Rob
    on Jul 15th, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Wow! The comments on this one took off and kept coming faster than I could reply. I’ll just say that so many have made such great comments that are wonderful additions to anything in the post itself. Thanks to all who’ve weighed in on this one. It’s been interesting to read even how personality types enter into this whole discussion. Each of us has to work at it to make the most of the strengths and minimize the weaknesses inherent to his personality type. Thanks again for all the perspectives added in the comments!