When it comes to your online and offline life, there comes a point when you have to make a decision: which one of these worlds feels more real to you? Which is more important? Most likely, you want to strike a balance or overcome the split between the online and offline parts of your life. However, in trying to achieve this, you must first accept and consider how both make serious demands on your time and energy.
As prominent social media researcher Sherry Turkle observes in her book “Alone Together,” “Always on and (now) always with us, we tend the Net, and the Net teaches us to need it.” At the same time, many are addicted to the “Net.” This addiction affects choices in real time.
Turkle explains that, although “we may begin by thinking that e-mails, texts, and Facebook messaging are thin gruel but useful if the alternative is sparse communication with the people we care about, we become accustomed to their simple pleasures – we can have connection when and where we want it, and we can easily make it go away.”
The more you leave physical organizations and meeting places, the more you avoid physical gatherings, the more difficult it becomes to extricate yourself from social media. Isolating yourself from others in an effort to more effectively dive into your gadgets has long-term consequences. You use and increasingly rely upon the Internet as this cycle continues. You turn down invitations to spend time with family and friends and then wonder why the frequency of invitations decreases.
Why aren’t people fulfilled? When you don’t take the time to connect in conventionally intimate ways, you may convey a lack of real commitment to the relationship. When a feeling of commitment erodes and bids for connection, attention, and care are not responded to, rifts in relationships are inevitably created. The unwillingness of one partner to make time for the other can feel like turning away. When this becomes the norm, people begin to feel shunted aside, unappreciated and rejected.
But what if someone is truly busy? Can’t that be understood? Isn’t it totally reasonable to not be able to accept invitations when others try to plan a meeting “in real life?” Of course it’s reasonable. People are busy. But the difference between maintaining a healthy relationship through stressful, busy times and allowing distance to develop is to remember your commitment to the relationship and to treat your friend or partner with care. If you genuinely can’t make time to meet, try to reschedule. Agree upon a time in the near future that works for both of you. This is the difference between turning away and turning towards. You communicate that the other person is important to you, that you do want to give them your time and attention as soon as you are able, and that you are dedicated and appreciative of them and of your relationship.
This widespread predicament is not an easy one to overcome. It’s not possible to entirely resolve or escape from it in the digital age. However, there are several significant issues underlying problems of self-esteem, trust, and mental or emotional stress. Finding balance and keeping perspective is difficult but by no means insurmountable. The importance of doing so cannot be overstated for the health of your relationships.
Read more on the Digital Age blog series.