Friday, January 25, 2013

We Need A Silent Night ...

Are we too plugged in?

I ask this question inquisitively. I sat in a coffee shop the other day and watched people on the sidewalk walking along with a companion and either texting or talking on their phone. And I found myself wondering: Are they truly “connected?”

I see people sitting at a table in a bar or restaurant … and each of them has their phone out checking Facebook, posting on Twitter or texting some message. I watch them and ponder:Why come out at all if you’re going to spend the evening interacting with a computer?

I sit in a Room … amidst my extended family. Two TVs are on. My niece and nephew are texting. My son is browsing the web with his iTouch. My daughter is playing a computer game. My husband is checking the stats of his Fantasy Football league on his tablet. There is so much going on around me and no one is talking to each other. My book and I leave to find a quiet space. I need a silent night … and a moment of real connection.

There are so many ways we believe we “connect” and stay connected with our friends, family and co-workers…Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Text Messaging, Email, Phone Calls etc. But the simple human touch seems to be dwindling in its importance. I sit beside people in meetings. Someone is speaking while their “audience” is made up of people scrolling thru their smartphone or clicking their tablet to read an email or to find something … something infinitely more important than what is happening in that human moment.

As I watched the couple from my cozy coffee house seat, I could tell they were together. But their actions drew them apart … the need to be plugged in seems to be is interfering with relationships. I thought the point of the cell phone was to keep us in touch with each other … but does it, truly?

With the tablets and cell phones come noise. So much noise surrounds us. It is difficult to find a quiet moment amidst this incessant communication. It’s exhausting … constantly being reachable or constantly plugging in. But when you are talking on the phone, are you truly dedicating attention to the person on the other end? Or, are you typing on a keyboard or doing something that actually distracts and takes you away from what could be a “real” moment?

When was the last time you turned off the TV and sat with your husband or wife companionably reading a book or newspaper? No music. No cells. No tablets. Maybe talked about random things … things other than what they did at work or the kids’ latest achievements? When was the last time you or your kids walked in the house and didn’t immediately turn on the computer or TV to play Wii or xBox or watch a show? When was the last time you enjoyed a silent night … maybe a board game or card game or some family interaction? Had just a few friends over so it’s not a mass of noise but easy, casual conversation?

Last night I sat with a friend and talked. No cell phones. No texts. No Facebook messages. Didn’t Tweet my location or check in on Facebook. I sat and enjoyed the company of another person. Heard his ideas … thoughts. Laughed. Debated stuff. Disagreed occasionally. It was easy and refreshing. Nothing electronic to interrupt or interfere with being in genuine relationship. My words weren’t perfect … sometimes I stumbled over them and struggled to get my ideas clear. I couldn’t edit or delete or review his message before I spoke. It was honest. It was real. It was flawed and imperfect. Yet it was a most natural thing. Just spending time … unplugged.

In theatre we call it being “in relationship.” That means you are in tune to another person. Focused on them. Actively involved with what they are saying in a give and take kind of way. By focusing outside yourself, you become aware of what is happening with that individual and what is happening around you. You look them in the eyes and connect. You remember things they’ve told you … reflect back on times you’ve shared. You remember comments they’ve made with others. It’s settled. It’s genuine. As Barbara Streisand said so eloquently, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

I need people. Yet, I want to unplug. I’m tired of texting … of logging in Facebook to see what my friends are doing and hope they have time to “chat.” In a way, I feel like I’m spying on others’ conversations there. Call me greedy, but I want the real thing. The touch of a hand. The smile that goes all the way up to the eyes. The laughter that I can see and hear. I want someone sitting across from me or next to me sharing a moment. Connecting. Listening to me stumble over what I have to say before I edit it fifteen times in an email or text. I don’t want to be perfect … Relationships are messy. I like them that way. I want lunches and coffees and drinks and walks and random encounters with people I may not run into every day.

And while I’m “connecting,” I want our cell phones to take a break, resting quietly in a pocket or purse.

                                                                                                                      -- Jenni