Friendship, Technology, and Humanity

Grandfather and Grandson on Park Bench with Tablet

I’ve been talking recently with more and more people who keep telling me they feel technology is replacing the human to human connections we once had. They mention that our communication feels colder, we seem to be more removed from human emotion, and that letters have given way to emails and 140 character tweets. They feel as if the emotion has been stripped away from engagement leaving only cold text on a minimalistic screen.

While I’m a Boomer and grew up writing letters and using, hold your breath, a phone with a cord, I disagree with those who lament technology. Most people I hear this sadness from appear to be somewhat hesitant to embrace technology. To coin a phrase, they don’t seem to be able to “Go with the Flow.” I might add that many are from more recent generations than mine.

Humans really don’t like change. Funny thing is, we don’t like change yet many of us embrace statements like, “I Live for Change” or my favorite “Change or Die.” The truth is, few of us change unless we have a good reason to do so but we want everyone to think we’re change masters. It sounds cooler, much more enlightened. So if letters and weekly phone calls met your need, why do you need Snapchat? For that matter, why drive? Last time I looked, horses were still around.

So a few things about technology and friendship…and humanity and why we should change.

I was gone from my home state of Oregon for almost 35 years and in that time I lost connections with many wonderful people from Oregon as well as those I’d met moving across America. I went from Oregon to San Francisco to Minneapolis to North Carolina back up to Chicago to New York and then home to Oregon. In each one of those places I made connections, but as you probably know, it’s easy for connections to get broken. These connections were especially easy to lose as our days were transitioning from picking up the phone and writing letters to sending emails and posting Facebook status updates.

And yet, by embracing technology (and the change it has brought with it) I’ve reconnected with many people I am fond of. People that I would have never found any other way.

I find it somewhat fascinating that my Facebook profile has four significant groups in it. There is a sizable group of people that I went to High School with, many of which I have only recently rediscovered. Then there are people I went to college with, some I’d forgotten and some I’d dated (we know how those friendships can end). There are smaller groups of friends from various employers and then there are people that I have just “met” through my time in different cities and states.

Many of these people I’d my lost connection with for 10 or 15 years or even longer, but now, on a regular basis, I see a part of their life and they see a part of mine. We’ve reconnected in ways that we could never have had technology not been an enabler.

I watch wonderful family videos, connect on LinkedIn to see where careers have headed, get notifications about family, weddings, births, and sadly illness and death. But without technology, I’d be so much less connected. We share inspirational quotes, inspiring stories, causes we care about and, of course, too many stupid cat videos. By seeing what my friends are interested in, I deepen my understanding of them and their lives and thus, my connections to others.

Let’s face it, in the “old days” nobody sent you VHS tapes of the deer in the backyard through the mail. Nor of their daughter’s college graduation, the home town 4th of July celebration, or just a short hello. Now we do that daily without giving it a second thought.

It’s easy to look back and lament the loss of long phone calls and letters in the mail, but short status updates, text messages, and live streaming video keep me much more connected. I am present in my friend’s lives even if I am far away.

Lynda, Friendtier’s founder, and I have enjoyed nearly 3 years of a deepening friendship yet just only recently met physically, something not that easy to do 20 years ago. I enjoy many conversations online with others I’ve never met but share a common interest or passion with. This makes me a more complete and better person. It connects me to something bigger.

I feel some sadness for those who can’t or won’t adopt some of this new technology. Some have no reason other than stubbornness but others have no one to teach then how and help them get them over the uncomfortable challenge of learning something so foreign and new. So I’d like to ask everyone that reads this to do the world a little favor.

Teach someone how to connect. You’re probably going to be talking to people older than yourselves but maybe not. Think about taking your laptop, tablet, or phone to a senior center or nursing home and helping someone connect with a grandchild or a far away, better connected friend.

Technology exists to give us more time to be human, not to dehumanize us. It’s up to us to use the tools we have today to broaden our connections and friendships. These tools are wonderful, powerful mechanism to do good, even if we’re just offering someone a little FaceTime with a new grandbaby…

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Mentor, student, teacher, startup junkie, tech nerd, gardener, builder, cook, friend...

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