Social media: too much of a good thing?

12/27/2012 6:37 AM

12/27/2012 6:37 AM

Pin this, post that. Click here, like there. Tweet, tumble, text. Facebook, Foursquare, Skype, Facetime and iChat. My social life is being managed by something I can’t hug. Wow.

The evolution of human interaction has made communication a full-time job. And while it’s now easier for me to keep up with far-flung friends, I’m also saddled with the unreasonable expectation of being accessible 24/7.

Really, do I need to be reminded that I haven’t checked in with Facebook for the past four days? Must I acknowledge the pesky email that lists the updates from my contacts on LinkedIn?

Oh, I know, I know. I’m sounding petulantly anti-social, like an ingrate who refuses to appreciate this wide, wonderful world of modern communication. I don’t mean to be. I distinctly remember when a long-distance call was a rare and expensive treat, when photographs took days to arrive in the mail and if you wanted to find a friend in the mall parking lot after a day of Christmas shopping, you had to have agreed on a predetermined time and place to meet. After all, cellphones didn’t always exist — a concept that befuddles my youngest sons, who don’t know and can’t conceive of a world without them.

Yes, technology has made socializing much easier, but it also has introduced us to a new form of guilt, a perverted sense of responsibility. Though we have the ability to control how much and when we share, we don’t exercise that prerogative near enough. We feel adrift and out of control without our beeping, blinking electronic blankies.

When I go off the grid for a day or two, when I resist the siren call of my smart phone or my office PC, I feel unsettled, out of place. What am I missing? Have I been left behind? Who knows something I don’t?

This is especially true for those of us who trade in information, whether we’re writers, stockbrokers or professors. The miracle that transformed our jobs with its ease and lightning speed has also made our work day interminable. Because the world that exists among circuits and chips never sleeps, we’re reluctant to use the off button to separate us from it.

Connectedness, too much too often, has become the new addiction, and experts now have a name for it: nomophobia, the fear of being without mobile technology. Google the term and you’ll learn that, according to some studies, up to two-thirds of us suffer from it.

It wasn’t always so, and it doesn’t afflict everybody. A friend considers the cellphone a necessary evil, so he turns it off as soon as he walks in through his front door. A relative refuses to turn on his mailbox option. And The Hubby refuses to entertain Facebook or LinkedIn accounts. He doesn’t follow anyone on Twitter nor post anything on Tumblr. Only recently, after some prodding, has he started to text, and he does this sparingly.

He may not be as well informed on the minutiae of the family, but he does seem far more relaxed than I ever am. Maybe he knows something that I, with all my high-falutin’ tech, haven’t recognized.

By always keeping in touch, keeping informed and keeping ourselves available, we’ve lost the appreciation of what it means to be alone, truly alone, with only our thoughts for company.

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