I just read a transcript from a talk at TED by Sherry Turkle and it both fascinated me and resonated deeply with some of my own emotional struggles. I felt compelled to blog about it straight away.
It was all about the impact of technology on real life relationships. How we all love to receive a text, an email, a photo or an instant message, because it shows us someone has thought of us, but in turn we are becoming addicted to those connections and the more we connect, the more connections we need. The need to connect, allows us to be in many places at once and with many people at once. It means we don’t miss out on anything, but in turn makes us forget how to be alone, and in the spaces in between texting and social media, we suddenly feel lonely.
The bit that struck a cord the most, was this part:
“the moment that people are alone, even for a few seconds, they become anxious, they panic, they fidget, they reach for a device. Just think of people at a checkout line or at a red light. Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved. And so people try to solve it by connecting. But here, connection is more like a symptom than a cure. It expresses, but it doesn’t solve, an underlying problem.”
This bit actually upset me, because it’s exactly how I feel. Sherry talks about how people have forgotten how to be alone and this in turn makes us more lonely. I am happiest when I am surrounded by my friends or family but when I’m not with people, I feel lonely all the time. When people leave my house, whether they’ve stayed minutes or days, I feel upset the moment they close the door. It’s the same whenever I travel anywhere or visit someone. When I’m on that train home by myself, the tears come. I can’t stand to be alone. My own company terrifies me. Until I read this article, I didn’t realise how big my problem was.
“I hear that life is hard, relationships are filled with risk. And then there’s technology — simpler, hopeful, optimistic, ever-young“
I’ve seen so many articles recently about how technology is making people value real relationships less. People are quicker to meet you and quicker to dispose of you. One click of a button and that person has left your life. People are pickier, more demanding and have higher expectations from their friendships, because social media has opened us up to the “plenty more fish in the sea” opinions, even when it comes to friends. It’s exactly as she says… technology is simpler than face to face.
I’m going to get personal now.
My best friend, no longer wants to be my friend. To say I’m devastated, is an understatement. I have no clue what I did wrong. But this transcript made me think about that friendship some more.
The friend in question, doesn’t use technology as much as me. He has facebook, which he checks, but he does not interact with his connections on there. As far as I’m aware, he’s not big on social media. Social media is a big part of my life, because I am a blogger, my blog depends on social media to thrive. And once you get into social media, it’s addictive. I have friends on social media, who care more about me, than friends I have in real life.
My friend doesn’t get lonely in his own company or understand my need for regular connections. He doesn’t understand why I get upset if I don’t hear from certain people for a long time, or if people don’t reply to me. Did I message too much? Is that why he no longer wants to be my friend? For me, a best friend is the person you talk to every day and if someone ignores me or doesn’t reply to a message, that shows me a lack of care. But is that really all down to my own fear of not connecting and being lonely? Have I become so dependant on technology, that I can’t get through a day by myself? I don’t do phone calls and I don’t do Skype, because I have confidence issues. Sherry touches on this in her talk too. About how not enough people talk on the phone anymore. Did I lose my best friend because talking on the phone scares me?
In real life, I’m hugely sociable, I can talk for England and the reality is that I’m very rarely alone. I’m always either out with friends or at home with my family. About half my friends are equally as reliant on their social media as me. We consider photographing our nights out, instagramming our food, checking in on Facebook and texting other people, as a sign that we are having a good time. The other half of my friends, are the kind that consider it rude to get your phone out in their company. There’s not much I can do to explain to the latter, the reasons that I do so, because they just wouldn’t get it; but in their company I try to use my phone less, to respect their views. The problem, is the very rare times when I am by myself.
I’m going to sound both hypocritical and contradictory now, but I’m glad there was very little technology when I was growing up. A part of me longs for the days gone by, where I had no qualms about talking on the phone. The days before mobile phones, when if you wanted to talk to a friend, you just showed up at their house. Some people nowadays actually think that showing up at someone’s house unannounced is rude, but when I was growing up, that was the only way. That was real friendship. And between the ages of 14 and 22, I used my mobile phone more for calls, than for texts. We didn’t text much, because until we were old enough to get contracts, each text cost 10p. We would phone each of our friends nearly every day for a chat. Even the friends we saw every day!
Phoning people now, (with the only exceptions being my mum and my husband) fills me with fear. I panic about running out of things to say or the other person not finding me interesting. I worry I’ll talk too much or not enough. That the person on the other end of the phone will judge every word I say and how I say it. That they might not genuinely want to talk to me. I feel sick and I feel awkward, but I never used to be like this.
So what is the solution? I need social media for my blog and to keep contact with all the friends who don’t live near me. It’s not like I can give it up or take a break from it. I somehow need to change my own mindset and understand that being alone, doesn’t mean everyone hates me. Not getting a like on a facebok status, isn’t really rejection. Going a few days without receiving a text might not mean that nobody is thinking of me. Being alone for a few hours doesn’t mean I’m all alone in the world. It doesn’t mean I have no friends. But how do you convince yourself that, when you are battling a huge side serving of depression at the same time? Will I really feel happier if I battle that need to keep checking my phone?
And if my fear of solitude and my need for connection were the reason I lost my best friend… how do I win him back?