There is so much noise in the world. There are a million distractions. Even our human conversations are half the time interrupted by a person who isn’t there– by the noise of a cell phone. So many times, hanging out with friends turns into a group of people in a room, glued to their phones, playing a game called “Hanging With Friends.” Oh, the virtual irony of it all! Sometimes I look across a dinner table and see all the tops to peoples heads, faces down, and no physical engagement. The restaurant I used to waitress at had four year-olds on ipads or iphones while the adults would eat and talk. It wasn’t so much that the children were well behaved, they were simply well distracted. And half the time the adults were just as pre-occupied. I watched couples sit in silence, one or both engaging with a gadget, missing out on each other.
It’s easy to see how this has come to pass. There are more reasons than ever to be looking down at something, than actually at someone. There’s email and texting and facebook and twitter and gaming and music and foursquare and youtube and pinterest and stumble and the blogosphere! Woo hoo! All of these things make a lot of noise and take up a lot of space, but there isn’t necessarily much substance there. You can’t stay engaged in a virtual world forever. We are warmblooded, social animals afterall, we require the warmth of another body and the sound of anothers voice. We simply do.
We’ve taken what started out as means to enhance communication, and almost gone the other direction. We’ve replaced calls with texts and jokes with smiley faces and flirting with poking. And no I don’t mean physical poking. I mean on facebook, you ‘poke’ someone, (meaning someone get’s a notification which reads intimately ‘You’ve been poked’) and if they like you, they ‘virtually’ poke you back. I can just see my grandparents trying to learn the nuances of social networking– simply turning around and saying, What the fuck? Don’t people talk anymore?
And we do. Of course we do. But I’d argue we’re digressing a little bit. So many times, we’re talking about facebook, or what we saw on Twitter. We’re fighting with our significant others about their profile picture or what some girl commented about on their wall. This is not what we should be arguing about. Couples need to fight. It’s a necessity, but not about this. This just feels…wasteful. There’s no winning the argument. And the other half of the time I call someone, I’m crossing my fingers that I get their voicemail! What’s that about? Well it’s no secret, I’m socially lazy and have never been the proactive friend. But I see these trends among everyone I know, including yours truly. Just a few weeks ago I yelled at Gabe for his profile picture, only to realize in silence later, I was acting like a complete douche. But these kinds of networking seem to encourage childish behavior like this, because the activity on it is almost childlike itself, and most of it is so unauthentic. Do you ever notice how cool most people seem on facebook? Like everyone has this awesome life and is beautiful and happy and living the dream? Knock knock knock…if you’re living the dream, you’re not busy uploading photos about it. You’re just living it!
I know it sounds like I’m spitting a lot of hatoraide on social networking when in truth I should praise it. Facebook, afterall, is the reason my blog went viral and I actively participate in most of the networks I’ve mentioned. There is an inherent need in all of us to share our experiences with one another. It’s how we bond and form closeness and facebook enables us to do that. Helllllo, I’m the girl that texts photos of my dog to people and devoted an entire page of my blog to him. Imagine how I’ll be with children! But the point is this; moderation. Everything in moderation, even moderation in moderation. And that is not where we are. We are in excess. It’s why we list our meaningless errands on facebook, ‘check in’ at a grocery store and boast 3,000 friends and only know about 20 of them. It’s also why we plan our entire weddings on pinterest (significant other or not) and why Justin Bieber has more than 18 million followers on Twitter. There are perks, of course, and these things are meant to be fun, which they are. But let’s just call it exactly what it is. Facebook is a bunch of faces, circulating in the web abyss, just attracting onlookers. Doesn’t seem like we should take it at face value. Notice the format has changed from having your profile as the main page, (the part that attempts to describe who you are) to having a wall and photos be the main page–Much quicker and easier to gauge someone this way. And we like things quick and easy, don’t we?
I often wonder what the effect of all these distractions are on everyone. Certainly our social habits have changed, and our conversations have changed. More than anything, I think we’ve cancelled the quiet. We are very rarely without our phones. Have you ever watched someone who’s phone battery has died? It’s like a natural disaster has struck. “Do you have a phone charger? I’m freaking out.” Most of us feel naked or vulnerable when we aren’t connected, when we’re off the grid. But what we should feel is alive. We should love those moments when no one can reach us, when the only voice we can hear is our inner voice, something we probably don’t listen to enough. I think my generation is missing something very basic that every generation before us has had: silence. We are always on. Always reachable. Always plugged in. Rarely do we listen to what silence or stillness has to say to us. And both these things have vital things to say, we’re just not accustomed to listening that way.
My time in Florida has had a lot of quiet, which I needed. I’ve done a lot of reading here and just listened outside to the sounds that the things which reside here make. (Side note, the tropical birds here make some freaky deaky sounds, fo real.) Timothy Leary told his generation in 1966 to Turn on, Tune in, and Drop Out. Even though his slogan was widely misinterpreted to mean ‘Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity’ what he really tried to convey was a life of examination, involvement, and autonomy. I’d argue his slogan is just as applicable today. (Or maybe the opposite, maybe we all just need to get stoned and abandon our work, man.) Mostly, I recommend we look each other in the eye and enjoy each others human-ness. When you ask someone how they are, mean it, and listen to what they have to say. At dinner, eat dinner, and talk to who you’re sharing it with! And if your phone dies, let it die. Just try staying shut off for a few minutes. I promise you, the voicemails, texts, and emails will all be waiting for you when you get back. Maybe even that cute boy you like will have poked you.
Health, Happiness, and Shhhh, Quiet.