Connected, Really?

“Communication is merely an exchange of information, but connection is an exchange of our humanity.” -Sean Stephenson

Should cell phones be banned from American classrooms? | TheHill

I’m not convinced that our technology has done much for our deeper needs for human connection. Maybe it’s even done some damage. Technology has brought us more convenience, broadened our reach, enabled deeper dives into information swimming holes, and created serious addictions to our devices. How has all of this marvelous “wirelessness” made our lives more wonderful and terrible all at once? As I thought more about this during the week, I think college students, despite the perpetual presence of technology in their lives, are not necessarily experiencing useful connectivity.

What if you spent four years at college and never really met anyone?

Since the widespread use of the cell phone (I’m told using that term places me in a very old fashioned category) as I walk into my class, I am always surprised that the silent room is full of people. In the old days (why am I using that phrase so often?), students would be talking, laughing,  sharing information at each class session. Today, every student is silently hunched over a phone or laptop never speaking  a word or looking at anyone else. It’s not a problem related to getting “warmed up” after the first week or two. This doesn’t change for the entire semester. I have to deliberately instigate social interactions. And these still typically do not have lasting results.

“Human connection is based on trust, and it is trust that is continually violated when people do not practice setting aside their narrow self-interests in consideration of the needs and interests of others, such as their coworkers, family, neighbors, and community.” ― Diane Kalen-Sukra

Time to get intentional. I’m going to have to think about deliberate, non-threatening practices that will enable and encourage college students to develop trust in their situation, fellow students and in me. 

Is there another world passing you by?

I’m at the old man stage where I talk out loud to strangers. This is especially prone to happen at school where everyone gets asked, “Did you learn anything today?” These days I can’t always talk to people passing by. Every other person is plugged into their phone while the real world passes by, day by day. I’ve stopped assuming people are talking aloud to me as they pass. It’s more than likely someone is on their hidden phone. I learned that lesson the hard way years ago with a few loud talkers at the grocery store. No one really needed my help finding the beef consommé.

Does staying plugged in while walking or bent over your phone in a crowded room keep people safe from the uncomfortable small talk with strangers?

“I care about strangers when they’re abstractions, but I feel almost nothing when they’re literally in front of me.” ― Chuck Klosterman

As an introvert myself, yes it is much more comfortable to sit in a crowd and look busy/distracted and not in need of anyone’s company. But I’m old enough to realize that’s not very healthy.

Is there really anything better going on in that little phone than the real people’s lives all around us?

Audio audacity: Students use concealed earbuds to avoid authority – U-High Midway

“I’m an introvert.
If your party isn’t better
than the one in my head,
I’m not interested.”
― John Mark Green

Time to get intentional. I can’t invade the personal space of strangers. What I can do is keep smiling. I can continue to extend all the social grace that’s so valuable. It never goes out of fashion or plunges in worth like bitcoin. I can continue to believe that someone real will always win out over everything artificial, in the end. 

What’s the weather like today?

All that time and attention spent plugged in and what always surprises me is how little enlightenment occurs. Very rarely do I run across a student who’s prepared for the rain or cold weather. It snuck up almost out of the blue. How is this possible? You’ve been connected almost every waking hour. Don’t you know about the weather, the Russians, or clogged up I-59?

If being constantly connected to the world around doesn’t help us to live a better life – then what does it matter? What else is going on?

Maybe being online all the time is something that’s out of control. Seems harmless to be on your phone constantly. What does an addiction look like? It’s not really about learning, growing and getting a step ahead.

The Six Most Common Types of Technology Addiction

“When you can stop you don’t want to, and when you want to stop, you can’t…” ― Luke Davies

As a sociologist I realize that there are powerful market forces that want nothing more than to trap young people in a perpetual surf on the web. Selling consumer products isn’t the only commodity being peddled. Ideas, calls to action and group affiliation are a few of the categories enticing us to roam endlessly through the web. Actually, there is no age boundary to who can become ensnared in this digital trap. Right?

I just feel at times as if I’m in a zombie film when I walk across campus and there’s so few to return a greeting, much less eye contact.

Back view of Handsome Teen Boy in gray suit stretching his right hand up for greeting. Portrait of caucasian Teenager waving hand isolated on white background. Stock Photo | Adobe Stock

If I’m going to be more intentional about this, maybe I need a big name tag or sign that just reads, “Hello!” or “Happy Thursday!” Something I could wave and people as they march past while all plugged in. What do you think? I’m already sort of a character at school as it is…

“Beware the man of a single book.” ― St. Thomas Aquinas



How Connected Are You, Really?

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.” ― Edward R. Murrow

Not another rant from a Boomer about too much cell phoning!? (sorry)

Who would have ever predicted the speed of our technological invention in the area of communication? We are all carrying a Star Trek communicator in our pocket. Platforms like email, Facebook, and Twitter to name a few, allow almost unlimited connections with friends, families, strangers (and foes).

We are now sharing photos of our new grandson within our family everyday. I can teach college classes to students who reside in different cities and states. My students can send me an email with questions late at night while they are working on homework or studying for exams. Cell phone calls make keeping in touch with family all over the state at any time of day.

There is an illusion that can easily take place. Our technology now allows us to communicate all of the time and with almost anyone. But all this easy “talking” doesn’t necessarily mean that much is really being said.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ― George Bernard Shaw

How many times have you created a misunderstanding with an email? Do you fully understand every text and tweet, even from people you know so well?


ONE: Volumes of meaning are typically communicated through our body language. Your facial expressions and gestures are important, even essential tools that you use when you communicate. You spend years of your younger years learning how to “read” the body language of others. Skyping during meetings is so popular because it allows people to feel like they can “read” the room better.

  • Where are your eyes wandering while you are listening?
  • How about the way your legs are positioned when you sit?
  • What about how you are standing or sitting when speaking?

Scientists today predict that our young people are launching into adulthood with poor social skills because they haven’t had the practice with enough real time mastering how to interpret body language. They’ve spent so much time on their phones and not enough time with real people.

TWO: When you are in the physical company of others there is a power of presence that can’t be replaced by digital means. Aren’t you guilty of saying things in a text that you might not ever say face-to-face?  Maybe it’s too quick, impersonal or mean. Remember the rule about counting ten before pushing the send button? When someone is right in front of you, the tendency is to take greater care about how, what and why you speak the way you do. There is some physical force that shapes the style of communicating.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ― Albert Camus

THREE: When you communicate in person you can’t just refuse to click “open” and leave the dialogue in limbo. There is a strong inability to ignore that occurs when you are in the physical presence of others. When you’re with someone you just have to talk it through or make it up or fight it out or reach a conclusion. Being with someone adds something irreplaceable to the interaction, you just can’t turn off the phone.

Volume doesn’t make up for depth. You already knew this to be true. But the truth isn’t always at the heart of what any of us does. Being connected is still essential. Being connected in the right ways matters most. At the end of your day, think about how many real people you’ve actually interacted with, in person.

“Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.” ― Charlie Kaufman