Loneliness is the new American epidemic. Since the 1920s, American floor plans have gotten ever-bigger. Yet one thing is missing. In her 2002 book, No More Front Porches, sociologist Linda Wilcox points out that as the interior of American houses becomes ever more spacious, the front porch has disappeared. The natural built-in hang out place for friends and family is long gone, and we’re lonely. If you have 2,000 friends on Facebook but no one to listen when you hurt, you might live in the 21st century.
This is representative of the way we’ve lost personal connection with each other. The amount of Americans who believe they have five people they can go to if they need someone has shrunk. In our quest to be always connected, a constant barrage of information can strip our humanity. It’s a lonely world.
Technology is not the enemy, and while our society has some significant vices, there are a lot of pros to our time. I believe technology gives us more power, power to do good in the world. But with more power comes more responsibility. We can bring back “front porches” in our lives if we want to. Here are three ways I’ve found to restore genuine human connection in the technology age.
1. Be less lonely by taking breaks from technology.
Notification filtering can be exhausting. Interruptions from our phones can lead to spastic, connected lives. I’ve discovered that turning my phone off for a period of time over the course of the day changes everything. Even better is taking a period of time – a weekend or even longer – to take a technology fast. Some of the clearest thinking I’ve ever done has been with my phone, tablet, and laptop off.
Turning off the phone can help beat FOMO. When there’s nothing to watch or click on, I gravitate toward my friends. Less time on the phone also means more time for people. One of my friends went on a 40-day technology fast. The effect was amazing. She reported that the empty place technology left quickly filled with friends and activities she loved.
2. Use video chat instead of text.
I recently discovered a surprising technology superpower: video chat. For most of my life, video chat technology hasn’t developed enough to use. Low bandwidth, slow connections and poor audio/video sync have made video chat a frustrating experience at best. The past few years has brought the advent of 4G, better compression, and larger data plans. Video chat has now emerged as a functional medium.Many successful people believe . Text and email (level 1 and 2) are impersonal and easy to misunderstand. They are only appropriate for simple communications – nothing that could involve emotion. When faced with more emotion or subjectivity, a phone call (level 3) is appropriate. If the conversation is of a personal nature, face-to-face (level 4) is an absolute necessity. There is no substitute for another person’s vocal inflection or facial expressions. Now, there is a new level between 3 and 4: Video chat. Video chat has made my conversations richer and more personal. HD video has brought human expression to my phone. I’m learning that hitting the “Video Call” button can supercharge the conversation.
3. Beat loneliness: be more open and vulnerable with friends.
It’s easy to isolate ourselves. In an individualistic world, connecting with friends is an option. But it’s an option that is often inconvenient to choose. When we do connect with people, it’s easy to substitute other things for connection. Watching TV or movies together sometimes replaces open conversation. The good news is, vulnerability is contagious. When we are vulnerable with each other, we reduce our anxiety and connect with each other. Vulnerability helps us realize that everyone else is quite a bit more like us than we might suspect. Choosing first to take a walk together and talk about a topic that scares us brings true human connection into relationships.
Just a few thoughts for the day. Comment if you have any other ideas. Best wishes.