“We live in a very tense society. We are pulled apart… and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together…. I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude.” —Helen Hayes
We live in the information age.
Computers provide the opportunity to process enormous amounts of information. The Internet makes the constant flow of information from anywhere in the world possible. Social media ties together information and relationships. And smart phones have made information and relationship accessible anywhere/anytime.
This adds many benefits to our lives: we are able to accomplish more, broadcast further, connect easier, and process quicker.
But left unchecked, this information age also has its downsides. Consider the fact that we are constantly, at all times, digitally surrounded by others. For the first time in human history, the possibility for relationship with others exists around us at every moment of every day… whether we are at work, in our homes, in our cars, in the grocery store, at our son’s baseball game, or on vacation at the beach. With the click of a mouse, the push of a button, or the flip of the phone, we are immediately rushed to a place teeming with others. And they immediately rush into our minds with reckless abandon.
Left unchecked, this constant stream of relationship can have some damaging effects on our lives:
- It becomes easy to constantly compare our lives to others. Because Facebook/Twitter/Google+ often only tell one side of lifes’ story, it becomes commonplace to compare the worst aspects of our life to the publicized best aspects of others. Add to that the fact that television paints an unreal, often over-glamorized view of the world, advertisements remind us of everything that we still don’t own, and technology changes at light-speed pace. And once you get lost in the comparison game, you enter a never-ending downward spiral. Reality has been replaced by fiction.
- There is a constant need to impress. It is human nature to hide weakness and champion strength. We so desperately desire to be well thought of and looked up to. As a result, when we are in the company of others, we try to look our best, put-together, and in control. We hope to impress others… often building walls to hide our true selves in the process. This new, constant stream of virtual relationship muddies the water. There is no longer any opportunity for down-time. We must always be “on-our-game” trying to hide our weakness and champion our success.
- It is tempting to overlook the people right in front of us. We live in a world where we can check to see what anyone else in our life is doing in real-time. There is no need to hear about it later. We can just check right now… and it will only take a second. Unfortunately, when there are only 2 friends in front of us but 200 friends online, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on the 2. This temptation to see what else is happening in the world is very strong. And it often comes at the expense of the people we are sitting with at the moment.
- The urgency of communication becomes greatly exaggerated. In a world where information is easily accessible and interpersonal relationships are always available, the urgency of communication begins to accelerate. Just because our cell phones allow us to be reached at any given point of the day (by voice or text) does not mean that an immediate response is necessary. Our lives continue. Unfortunately, because the world has collapsed around us, there is a growing sense that not giving an immediate response to texts/e-mails is rude. It is not.
- There is great opportunity to become overly-dependent on others. When the opportunity to be surrounded and validated by others is constantly present, the opportunity to rely upon those relationships to an unhealthy degree also presents itself. If we can receive feedback and praise from dozens of people at a moment’s notice, the ability to find personal satisfaction diminishes. We lose the ability to find security in our heart and soul – because the rush feels so good when we receive it from others.
- There is unlimited ability to ‘sell.’ When relationships are always available, there is never a moment in the day that we can not be busy selling something to somebody. In a world that spins on the foundation of the dollar bill, this can become very dangerous. Whether we are selling material products, intellectual products, or just ourselves, the opportunity to sell is always available. The store never closes. Customers always enter. And if we’re always busy chasing the next sale, there is little opportunity for contentment to take root.
- Silence becomes feared. When social media offers the illusion that all of our friends are at all times living in constant relationship, silence is feared. Silence begins to take on the meaning of “missing out” or “loneliness.” When all the world is achatter but you are sitting quietly, it can be a fearful thing. Unfortunately so.
- Our hearts are never searched and our lives are never evaluated. The constant flow of relationships and noise around us often distracts us from the most important thing in our lives: our heart and soul. The fear of solitude, the inability to disconnect, the lack of training in meditation, and the difficulty associated in looking deeply into our heart and soul means that we rarely do it. In a world where virtual relationships exist around-the-clock, the discipline to search our heart is rarely developed.
Despite the benefits, there is danger in constant relationship. We are wise to consider what they may be. And we neglect time alone at our own peril.