The Real World

A while back I wrote about making a conscious effort to wean myself from the computer, from my occasional obsessive fixation with social media and blogging.  I’ve continued in that effort, and I’m pleasantly surprised at the outcome.  On days when I can successfully limit my online meandering, I feel infinitely calmer, less rushed, and more productive.  It feels as if the day suddenly expands, and when I look at my watch I’m surprised that it’s earlier than I thought (when I usually have the opposite reaction).

Writer Anne Lamott talks about this very thing in a recent article for Sunset magazine.  “You have to grasp that your manic forms of connectivity—cell phone, email, text, Twitter—steal most chances of lasting connection or amazement,” she says.  “Connection” and “amazement” being code words for living life to its fullest, for pursuing all those creative pursuits and real social interactions that make life meaningful for the long haul.  Although Lamott cites other things that share the blame for stealing our precious time – things like housecleaning, and going to the gym, and work – I think the internet is one of the most insidious culprits.   Housecleaning and exercise at least create a sense of personal satisfaction – you can see and feel that you’ve accomplished something.  Spending time on the internet – the few minutes that turns into an hour or more – actually leaves me feeling simultaneously drained and agitated, an odd state of disequilibrium that’s peculiar to the 21st century human.  They’ve yet to come up with a name for this condition, but I suspect that at some point in the future, we’ll see support groups developing to help those similarly afflicted.

The obsessive texting, emailing, Facebooking, and Twittering is surely indicative of the way we crave interaction with other humans.  We’ve all glommed onto this ability to “talk” to our friends and family at any time – while standing in line at the grocery, in a boring meeting at work, or even (God help us) in the bathroom (no, I have never texted, emailed, or talked on my phone in the bathroom, and I never will).   It seems kind of pathetic, and rather poignant too, that we all enjoy this remote connection so much.  Wouldn’t it be so much nicer if we could meet our friends face to face every morning at the local diner and talk about what’s happening in our lives, share our thoughts on the book we’re reading, discuss the news of the day or comment on the weather.   Because that’s really all the “social media” interaction amounts to in most cases – a chance to share our thoughts and relate what’s happening in our lives to other people who might care.

Ah, but that kind of interaction belongs to another time and place, doesn’t it – that elusive “Mayberry” for which I’m always longing.  For most of us, there is no local diner, only myriads of Starbucks and McDonald’s.  And who has time to meet there in the morning,  with traffic and school and work and meetings, not to mention all those texts and emails to answer.

Lamott’s final point is not only valid, but vital.  “What fills us is real, sweet, dopey, funny life,” she says.  Don’t wait until you’re 80 to discover that all the time you spent texting, emailing, and checking the news feed, would have been better spent meeting a friend for coffee, or taking your dog for a walk, or visiting your elderly neighbor.

Don’t become so enamored of the virtual world that you forget how to enjoy the real one.

Hmmm…I think I’ll make that my Facebook status for today.








14 thoughts on “The Real World

  1. This is why I don’t do facebook or twitter. My blogging is bad enough and if I’m not careful I can get OCD with that.
    I’m living in a great neighborhood where everyone has dogs and they all take them for nice long walks. We all chat together and it is like meeting at the local diner or the water cooler to make contact with other people. It really is a wonderful thing. And everyone has a wonderful dog or two in common.

  2. This is lovely, and so true about the longing for the morning meet-up in the diner. We actually have a diner like that. On any given Sunday if we go there for breakfast the place is surely half filled with our friends. I’m really grateful for that, feels like Luke’s from Gilmore Girls. I will say this, however, in defense of social media: I tend to be somewhat of a hermit, and I connect with people on line a lot more than I would in person. I developed a lot of new friendships on line (that also exist in the physical world) and have had the pleasure of reconnecting with people I might not see often, if at all, because of Facebook. I feel like many of my interactions there enhance my life. That said, like anything else, it certainly requires balance. I can’t let it dominate my social interaction or my time.

    • You’re so lucky to live in a place that retains some of the personal, small town atmosphere. There may be more places like that than I realize – I need to go searching for them!

      I do enjoy being able to easily connect with people from all areas of my life -that’s Facebook’s charm, I think. It’s fun to see my “friends” from church, work, and school all interacting together.

      Balance is indeed the key…

  3. I read that Lamott article a few weeks ago when it was linked by a blogger in Cardiff, Wales – a gentleman who paints! It’s a great article, and I was pleased to see that I have someone in the person of Ms. Lamott who’s come to the same conclusions I have!

    I was intrigued by your comment about social media use being an indication of our hunger for connection. There are two reasons I’ve rejected social media, apart from using Twitter to publicize my blog posts. First, they’re a time sink. Second, they seem to me to have very little to do with real connection or interaction. I know, I live in the Pleistocene. But that’s how i see it. Just like the SEO mavens, the social media gurus have a lot invested in getting us to use it. That would be “invested” as in $$$$$$$.

    On the other hand, the time I spend on the internet – researching, writing, reading – is immensely satisfying. I don’t find it draining at all, but stimulating and refreshing. Of course it’s a time sink, too, but the benefits seem to outweigh the cost in time.

    • I think lots of people who use Social Media (particularly Facebook and Twitter) find a great deal of satisfaction in the social interactions there. I’m amazed at some of the long, real time conversations that occur on Twitter.

      The thing I like about Facebook is that it allows me to “keep in touch,” at least tangentially, with a lot of people from different walks of my life. I enjoy seeing old friends from high school, family members, church friends, and blogging friends all in one place, so to speak.

      Sometimes it’s information overload, though, and if I allow myself to become too involved in it, that’s when I feel rattled – sort of like too much caffeine!

      • You know – I just now thought of something so obvious I can’t believe it’s not occurred to me before. I may simply have a much lower need to be connected. I like people, and enjoy being with them, but as I’ve moved, changed professions, etc. I’ve kept in touch with only a few from each “era”.

        The other thing is that for twenty years I’ve worked by myself, in isolation on the docks. It may have increased my bent toward social isolation, too.

  4. I think I need to get a dog… like Jzrart.

    I remember when cell phones first came on the scene. I disliked them then and I dislike them now. Maybe it’s not so much dislike as disinterest. My friends and family are frustrated by my unwillingness to tie myself to my cell phone. I repeatedly tell them that I don’t have it with me every second of the day. They continue to expect me to answer when they call. A disconnect.

  5. I guess I’m in good company back here in the Pleistocene! No Facebook, no Twitter & I rarely have the cell phone on, except, as now when I think there might be some communication from the CS. I am having to limit my online time; I start reading & commenting & catching up and twenty minutes, as you point out, becomes two hours. Then three. Then–good grief! is that really the time????

    Hooray for Anne Lamott, in general, and in that article. Thanks for sharing it, Becca!

    • I think my dependence on the cell phone really took off when my son moved far away for college. I liked the idea of knowing he could get hold of me anywhere, anytime.

  6. I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I love blogging — perhaps because I find people who simulate my thoughts or imagination or enjoy similar things. I’m visual — I like to see, whether it’s pictures or words.

    But the rest of it? Well, I’ll FB because I have to for work and it’s OK, but I don’t live for it. I’m supposed to tweet for work too, and one day I’m going to be in big trouble for not really doing it. Cell phones? I have an old one that a stranger gave me after meeting when it came up I didn’t have one. She worried. Sweet, and it comes in handy at the lake when I have to call the guy who gets raccoons out of chimneys, but most of the time it’s not charged.

    In the nice weather, at least, I see my neighbors on the streets, walking dogs and kids. I know their names, they know mine. I know the people in the grocery store and post office by name. It’ s not Mayberry, but it’s the best I can do. That said, a sit-down with Andy and Ain’t Bee would be awfully nice!

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