Are We Digitally Lonely?

Are we lonely?

A friend and work colleague of mine sent me this video and once I finally watched it, I watched it twice. The debate that as people are becoming more interconnected, they’re also isolating from one another is not new. Heck, anyone who’s tried dating in the past few years knows the struggle. However, this is the first sociological argument I’ve seen.

If you were to ask the average person on the street if he was lonely, what do you think he’d say? Yes? No? Of course, there’s a certain social expectation to say and act as if everything is fine. So perhaps this isn’t the best example. What about you? In the past week or in the past month even, can you say you haven’t had a moment where you felt lonely?

As a blogger and someone sharing her personal life online, this is especially pertinent in my world.

The Innovation of Loneliness

Can You Engage?
Ever tried standing in line anywhere and *not* playing with your phone? It’s hard to do now. Hard to look up and make eye contact with a stranger. Not to mention it feels a bit … subversive. It’s unusual. Walk around a parking lot from a store and you’ll see heads angled downward, people moving from one activity to the next not quite engaging in the “now” around them. Is it possible they’re engaging in the “now” online? Yes, it’s possible.

As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I work to live by the yamas and niyamas. These two are a set of ethical and spiritual guidelines that help provide shape to a healthy life as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Two in particular that resonate here are Aparigraha, or the disconnection from ownership or connection to a result and a Niyama called Svādhyāya, which is a dedication to and awareness of the self.

In thinking of these two ideals, it makes sense to disconnect. I make a point to leave my phone in my purse when I can. If I’m waiting at my favorite restaurant, I put my phone down and pick my head up. I’m a part of my community and too many times I’ve had a friend in the same room as me and not known it. It’s important as a group of people that we remember how to interactive sporadically, with or without awkwardness or even, let’s be honest, with or without makeup. Nobody can be perfect or predictable all the time, it’s the small differences and slight variations on who we are that make things interesting.

Personal Satisfaction

This leads me to another thought: Where are we deriving personal satisfaction? If our faces are buried in our phones as opposed to interacting with others, are we truly experiencing community? When I was in high school, and even for a few years in college, we took pictures with cameras with the intention to print them out and hang them at home or give them as gifts. Now we take pictures to show to the world we are relevant. I’m having fun and I’m happy, there, now don’t you see?

In order to be a strong leader or businessperson it’s increasingly more important to be self-reflective. Growing up in this digital age, I’ve worked through all of these struggles, uncertain as to which parts I should rebuke and which ones to enjoy. Certainly, I’m not perfect but I have a few things that have been helpful for me. Try out these little techniques to help draw yourself out of digital loneliness and dip into real social connectedness.

1. Leave your phone in the car at the grocery store.
This can be hard for some of us who use your phone for coupons or lists. If so, just resolve not to text or call.
2. Write something on paper. Don’t share it.
It’s freeing to create something just for yourself. There’s no judgement and there are no rules. Free flow what comes to mind and then just leave it there.
3. Invite friends over for dinner.
Cook together or enjoy pot-luck style. Break out the games and keep phones to a minimum. These nights are the most refreshing and humbling in my world. Talk to your friends and see what is happening in their worlds, let them know what’s happening in yours and refill your battery with a dose of people who care about you.
4. Remember the barista’s name.
Remember the people you see every day and engage. Ask questions, get to know them. you likely see your postman, a grocery store cashier, a parking attendant, your doctor, and many more people on a consistent basis. Shrink your world a little and draw them in. Get to know a little bit about them just by saying hello.
5. If that girl over there is on your Facebook, you have to say hello.
Really, you do. Challenge the idea that we don’t all know the 886+ people with whom we are connected on social media.

Social media is not all bad. It’s a phenomenal tool through which most of us run our businesses, plan our social events, and keep track of long-lost relationships. We do, however, as the generations going through this digital age for the first time, have a responsibility to figure it out. Once we do that, we’re creating healthier leaders, friends, and families for the future.

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