The Connection Conundrum
January 5, 2022
Where have Meaningful Conversations Gone?
Approximately 10 years ago, I was on vacation with my partner and friends. One evening, we were headed into the lodge at Lake Crescent to grab dinner. Walking through the lobby on the way to the restaurant, I was mesmerized by six young people aged 8–17 gathered around a board game. They all appeared 100% engaged. (Please note, there was no cell service.) Not only were they playing a game, but I noticed that this was not an ordinary game. It involved asking each other questions and listening to each other’s answers, and it offered a way for these kids to truly get to know each other better. I was tickled and impressed. I remember chatting with the kids and asking them about the game. What I loved was watching them meaningfully connect, show curiosity about one another, and share their personal stories with one another. Seeing this really impacted me. I realized how much I missed witnessing others meaningfully connect.
Meaningful connection and conversation are what I value most in the world. I am truly grateful that Kim and I continue to have open, honest, and meaningful dialogue.
Over the past few years, however, I have noticed that conversations and conversational style appear to have changed, which I find curious. Sometimes, it appears that we have gotten together with friends only to have them offer a report of whatever is new in their life without once checking in with us on our lives. I wish I could say that this is rare, but unfortunately it is not. What has become rare is meaningful conversation.
Within the last few weeks alone, I have coached clients who are fighting with or are disconnected from someone in their lives, and when we truly looked at what was going on, technology kept coming up. Most of the conversations were happening over text, which led to miscommunication. Others shared that they are concerned that the person they desire meaningful connection with doesn’t appear to engage with the world except through a screen. I have experienced this as well. As Dr. Sherry Turkle, a professor in the social studies of science and technology at MIT, wrote, “We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.” To be clear, I differentiate meaningful connection from Turkle’s definition. Turkle defines connection as “having a Facebook interaction. You can acknowledge that you like something in a post, but it’s not conversation. It’s connection without all the deeper things that can happen when you’re really with someone and involved with what he or she has to say in a deeper way.”
The Reality of the Loss of Conversations in the Digital Age
Kim and I, regardless of the fact that we have intentionally chosen not to have cell phones, still struggle from time to time with our communication and hence meaningful connection. There are too many times when one of us has tried to share or communicate with the other while we are both on our computers at the same time. This never bodes well. The person who is sharing is not truly being heard, even though there may be an illusion of being heard. If I say I am listening but I am still facing my computer, there is a pretty good chance that I am not fully listening.
My fear is that we as human beings have gotten way too comfortable with this lack of conversation. It might even feel like conversation is uncomfortable and awkward. We may find ourselves having a difficult time staying away from an electronic device and giving our attention to one another. Our social skills are more than rusty. My fear is that they have been dramatically altered. We have become less curious about others. Our attention spans have become minuscule. Meanwhile, we are less connected to our fellow human beings, whether they be colleagues, friends, or loved ones.
Desire Deep Connection. Change is Necessary
This is unacceptable to me. I cannot change the world, and I am not going to try. However, I can make sure that the places where I spend my energy are the places where I feel deeply connected. When people feel deeply connected, the relationships are healthy and nurtured.
Brené Brown defines connection “as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
If you are like me and you desire more from your relationships, then two things are required. First, you need to ask for more. You need to ask others to put down their devices. Second, you need to be willing to intentionally challenge yourself to do the same.
So, let’s all look up and begin truly seeing the person right in front of us with curiosity so we can begin the process of healing. Healing is possible, and conversation is the means to achieve healing.
If you were moved by this blog post and would like to explore your communication with others as we enter a new year, here are some resources that can support your journey.
I feel like the message to “Look up!” has been provided in so many places as of late. There is a new movie titled Don’t Look Up starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, which I wouldn’t call inspiring. Yet, I will tell you that the movie packs a million messages and a punch and is well worth watching. Also, if you can stand one more Christmas movie, the 2019 movie Last Christmas, which was inspired by the song by George Michael, actually has a lovely message to look up and take in the lovely world that is just inches above your screen.
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