Where Have All My People Gone?

Let's make sure that we don't lose sight of experiencing real life. Being your own personal Facebook feed journalist will never be the real thing. It just isn't and never will be.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Imagine you are going to finally make it to a rock concert with some close friends. All of you are so busy that you haven't had a chance to decompress together for at least three to six months. Everyone's got their tickets (made out of real printed paper) in their back pockets and they’re marching with you towards the venue in excitement. You hit the bar in the venue for some long overdue greasy bar food and a couple ice cold brews to wash it down with.

The night has been stellar so far.

Then something weird starts to happen to your friends. Instead of talking amongst each other about the whole experience they’re having at that moment with the real human beings they are sharing the same physical space with, everyone has their phones out. The synchronized removal of smartphones from their pockets and purses moves as if they had coordinated this routine before the show. They are fiercely tweeting about where they are eating. They are posting to Facebook how great the band is gonna be to see live and who they are here with to talk to and catch up with. At that moment you realize all your close friends are communicating only with aliens across outer space and have been for the last half hour.

Next, the crowds of people have made their way into the venue, their bellies full of fried garbage and cheap beer. The lights go down. The first notes of a known hit song make their way out of the P.A. system full blast and flood the eardrums of the audience. The fans are synergized into one entity where a bunch of strangers are in one big room, totally on the same page through music for those three hours.

People cheer for a few minutes and then everyone pulls out their camera phones taking tons of photos and video, feverishly uploading to Flickr and Facebook, trying to be  as real-time as they can get their fingers to flow across the touch keyboard on their iPhones and Droids. The do this the entire show.

When the band leaves the stage, you and your crew turn around and start to leave the concert. The crowds are pushing out the front double doors, sweaty and smelling like a blend of whiskey, cigarettes, body odor and good times. Amongst the exhausted crowds you look up and realize all of your friends are going in opposite directions. They are because their eyeballs and fingers are glued to their phones. They are tweeting about how great the show was and how they’re now leaving the venue and how crowded it is and how they bumped their elbow on the railing near the stage and how great the guitar sounded and how everyone’s hanging out tonight, etc. They’re checking into every venue on the block using three simultaneous geo-location mobile apps, tagging every person present at that moment. They're pushing more photos and content in a coordinated fashion, into organized photo sets, almost immediately, as if their lives depended on sharing the breaking news that is their lives.

You say your good nights and head home, ears blissfully ringing with rock’n’roll tinnitus. You get home and after sitting down on your couch thinking about the evening, you realize you didn’t really get that organic human connection quota that you were hoping to get. All you got was people tweeting about their night with you as opposed to actually experiencing it for real. They were spending their entire time talking about their awesome evening to others who weren't there instead of focusing on the good times at hand with the people that were actually present.

Guilty As Charged

I credit a discussion with a good friend of mine over the weekend about this topic. She had complained about going to a concert with friends and was frustrated how no one was talking to each other because they were tweeting instead.

I started doing a rewind of myself in my head, trying to play back my behavior with my iPhone and how it had impacted my ability to concentrate on my current surroundings – the good, the bad, the ugly – life! I realized that my honest desire to share content so that others get to be part of a positive experience I had, had overstepped it’s bounds and thrown my life experience associations all out of whack. I had somehow trained myself to think that everything I did that was fun, had to be shared. Wrong. I was now missing out on more than I ever have.

I have since I’ve toned down how often I share. I try to make sure that I complete a mental checklist in my head of 10 or so organic things to experience for myself. Now I don't share it all right away, if at all. My social moments with my friends have started to regain some of their old school joy. Maybe some of the details in our experiences and memories should just be left to the memory banks that we were physiologically born with. Otherwise, there may not be much for us to wonder about anymore. Without wonder, there's no need for imagination.

My friends that know me on Facebook will laugh hard at that previous paragraph. Little do they know how many photographs of food, landscapes and celebrations I didn’t post anywhere or share. I've decided that some things are just mine.

A recent article by Matt Richtel for the New York Times entitled "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction" hits so many great points.

"Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention."

But what is the answer? I ask this because then further down in the article it has this quote:

"But even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills."

It's hard to tell sometimes if we've gone passed the point of no return. My hope is that for those of us that were present when all this social stuff started, we keep teaching our kids and future generations the importance of balancing 'being the video' as much as filming and uploading the video. I hope more people can start to balance themselves out a little by throwing as many "no smart phones allowed" parties as they do tweetups.

Be Present

In an age where mobile content becomes the standard for staying in touch, I think we need to keep the importance of balance in the back of our minds. It's important to make sure that we don’t lose sight of experiencing real life as opposed to the delusion of thinking that being your own personal Facebook feed journalist is the real thing, because it just isn't and it never will be.

When you go to the beach be sure to feel the sand, smell the air, splash in the water. Then maybe later in the day get a couple photos on your phone and upload them later when everyone’s gone home. The concept of Thanksgiving is timely. If anyone reading this post gets together for this time of year with family and friends, make sure your phones take a nap for a few hours.

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[image of kids texting courtesy of a Articlia.com]

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