The last week and a half I have been following along with Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s twenty-one day meditation challenge. I love the guided style of the meditations, which give you a mantra to repeat throughout the meditation and a related centering thought to carry with you throughout the day. Today’s mantra was Tat Tvam Asi or, ‘I see the other in myself and myself in others’.
Pre-meditation, Deepak discussed how technology, though wonderful and connective in some ways, keeps us from making deep the spiritual connections that depend on physical interactions. He asked that we make an effort to nurture the connections that we make in the “real” world, be they long term friendships or a conversation struck up with a bank teller.
I would venture a guess that I am not the only one in the blogoverse who struggles with making real connections in the real world. When you spend so much time online, it can happen by accident. You spend hours each day crafting your writing style to suit the needs and wants of people you have never met, obsessing about keywords and number of clicks; which, don’t get me wrong, can be a great thing! I am an adamant believer in the power of social networking to bring people together across geographic and personal barriers. But when so much effort goes into interactions where there is a delay in communication (like a blog poster waiting for a reply, or a facebook user waiting for likes), it is easy to forget how to communicate when your “audience” is standing right in front of you.
Because of the dictated, non-conversational nature of many of our online interactions, people seem to be forgetting how to have give and take conversations. I find that more and more often a “conversation” out in the real world consists of someone saying their opinion in no uncertain terms and then staring at you with a look that dares to you to challenge them. Interactions quickly degrade into a series of youtube comments.
Why is this? There’s a reason that so many of us are drawn to communicating through one from of internet networking or another; it’s easy. Yes, it’s easy to get a twitter account or to start taking pictures of your breakfast on instagram, that’s not what I mean. I mean that it is easy to voice your opinions when you aren’t looking another person in the eyes. It is easy to throw words out into the void that you, personally will be unlikely to be held responsible for. It’s liberating in a sense; an abdication of social responsibility. To say whatever you want and then wait to see what brand of shit-storm you’ve created amongst people that you don’t know or are at least several miles away from you. Like the guy in the car behind you at the stoplight that just turned green .05 seconds ago who is laying on the horn with one elbow and flipping you off with both hands while his face boils red out the top of his collar. It is extremely unlikely that this man would be doing any of those things if you were standing next to each other. Well obviously, there wouldn’t be the stoplight issue if you weren’t in cars but the point is that the internet, like a steel reinforced vehicle, protects us from retribution.
Okay, so we all know that people are assholes on the web. We’ve accepted it and most of us can comfortably assume that we are better than that. But that doesn’t mean the the way we communicate online is not affecting the way we communicate in the real world. How many of us have posted facebook status’, or tweeted something that was not a conversation, but just a spewing of our thoughts? All of us. I’m doing it right now. And that’s fine for the internet, we don’t know all the people we communicate with on here and we’ve all agreed that for now, this is the way we will interact online. But in the real world, when you are face to face with a real, red-blooded human, we need to remember that there are a different set of rules.
These rules aren’t just social. I know there are many of you out there, myself included, who would call bullshit on any sort of “we have to do it because societal norms demand that we do” type of argument. I in no way believe that just because something is done a certain way, that is the only way or the best way to do it. No, the way we interact with each other, the deep spiritual connections that we need to be making, these are based on rules that guide us as biological, spiritual creatures. The need to look someone in the eye, smell their human smell and share a real part of yourself is very real. We are social creatures and the vague, delayed interactions that happen on the internet, although wonderful, are not enough. When we let our online communication style bleed into the physical world, we are robbing ourselves of the true connections of which social media is just a parody.
When you go out onto the physical world, take down your internet armor. When you are online, you can prepare everything that you say in advance; it is time to reacquaint ourselves with vulnerability and the uncomfortable silence. When we interact with people face to face, it is in the moments where we don’t know what to say, when we are caught off guard and when we are surprised that the most valuable learning happens; about those we meet but more importantly about ourselves.
We cannot really know people online, and we cannot know ourselves. The calculated responses, the happy pictures and the witty jabs are not real. We must get outside and look people in the eye in order to see the connections between ourselves and others. These connections have nothing to do with being a follower of Justin Beiber on twitter, or a member of the “right” political party. They have to do with finding something in another person that resonates with your soul on an unarticulated level. And there’s no app for that.