My take on it is, even though the modern media at our disposal is greater than ever in terms of the sheer capacity for communication and the light-speed at which it is transmitted, I do not see that humans are necessarily doing any better at really connecting and understanding each other. Just because we are facebooking and twittering and instant messaging at an astounding rate doesn’t mean that we are doing better at speaking and listening to each other. I am not saying we should spend less time on social networking sites; I’m saying we should make it substantive, make it count, and do it with integrity.
Above and beyond all of that, we should spend more time sitting on the porch shooting the breeze — more time actually talking face-to-face.
I really like Facebook, because it has improved the quality of my day-to-day life by allowing me to chat more frequently with friends and family members and to stay more in tune with what they are doing. However, I do struggle with the truly “virtual” nature of much of my interaction. I can have conversations with people all over the country, which is great, but I don’t really know them, do I? In many cases I would love to get to know them better, but it’s just not feasible. It saddens me sometimes that, although I have a tremendous amount of “freedom of communication” thanks to the internet, it only goes so far. I can’t see their facial expressions and body language, so the communication is limited. I can’t hug them or shake their hand, so the friendship just doesn’t seem, well, real enough. Maybe this is just my problem, although I doubt it. I think it may affect anyone who uses Facebook or any other social network.
I’ll never forget how my son’s karate teacher defined “stranger” when explaining about the importance of the “circle of safety” and who should be considered a safe, friendly person to be around. He asked his students to consider the question, “Do you really know this person?” Simply put, he boiled it down to these criteria: have you ever been in the person’s house, and have they been in yours? That may seem like to high a standard for who we can call a “friend”, but I think there is something important in there that society as a whole is forgetting.
Let’s keep doing what we are doing (and perhaps doing it better, if possible), but let’s also leave time for more in-person talking and hanging out.