This has been a remarkable week. With the help of my mobile phone, laptop and tablet, I have connected with people who live in Colombia, a family member serving our military in the Middle East, and contacts who live three time zones away. I also celebrated numerous birthdays, a couple of anniversaries, the antics of an expressive toddler and a new business breakthrough. Then, in a dramatic shift, I offered consolation to an acquaintance who lost a loved one and helped a couple work through a challenge in their relationship. This all happened online without having to travel or make complex arrangements.
Tech Perks … And Drawbacks
To say that our generation is able to be more connected with more people than anyone who lived before us would be a colossal understatement. I’m amazed that I can keep up with the activities of so many people around the world as well as in my hometown.
It is surprising, then, that I still feel lonely much of the time. And apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way.
Vivek Murthy, former Surgeon General of the United States, recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review that “over 40 percent of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher. Additionally, the number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades.” He also points out that loneliness cause stress, contributes to many serious health challenges and decreases our productivity at work. In other words, loneliness is a topic we must pay attention to. It begs the question, if we are more connected than ever before, why do we still feel lonely?
Fans, Not Friends
One reason is that social media is great at creating fans, but isn’t well-equipped for developing close friends. Fans are curious about our lives and celebrate our public experiences. Friends care about our personal challenges, come to our aid when life is stressful and connect with us in more vulnerable ways than the public forum can facilitate.
The fact is that we need both. We all do better when we know we are part of a movement of people who notice what we do and express their support. We also need to know there are a few go-to people in our lives who truly know who we are, empathize with our shortcomings, believe in our strengths and get involved to lower stress when life overwhelms us with demands.
Always There For You
This past year highlighted this process for me. Pam and I sold our home so we could move closer to my parents to help care for them as they struggle through the aging process. Getting our home ready to sell took a lot more work than we expected. Through social media, many of our fans wrote encouraging words and expressed that they were praying for us. To say the least, this was very helpful. There was also a group of friends who came to our house and offered hours of physical help that relieved a stressful burden.
I could have eventually accomplished the work on my own, but I have a deeper connection with these friends because of their sacrifice. Through them I saw Romans 12:10 lived out: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
Cultivating In-Person Friendships
We all will benefit from having a plan that cultivates both fans and friends in our lives. In my own experience, I have decided to connect with my “fan base” through Facebook, online video chats and blogging. I love these technologies, but find they are not sufficient to keep me connected with face-to-face friends. I have, therefore, intentionally added some offline community-building habits to my life:
- I ask three people each week how they are doing with the intention of listening to them for at least 15 minutes. I find that making eye contact encourages them to share at a deeper level than they would in the public forum.
- I meet up with my friends in person at least once per month. It is usually simple and inexpensive, but the value it brings to our friendship is immeasurable.
- I hug the most important people in my life every time I see them (this includes my wife, sons, daughters-in-law, grandkids, parents, siblings and close friends). It doesn’t take long, but it can’t be imitated by technology.
I encourage you to supplement the power of today’s technological connections with a plan for building strong, in-person friendships to avoid technological loneliness.
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