It was Saturday night and I was getting ready to go out for the evening. I asked my babysitter to order pizza for my daughters and handed her a Domino's take out menu. A few minutes later I came back into the living room and she was tapping away on her iPhone. When I asked what she was doing, she informed me that she was ordering the pizza. You're texting in the order, why not call on the phone? I inquired. Oh no, I don't want to have to talk to anyone, she said, making a frightened face.
The next day, I was getting my hair cut and speaking with my stylist, a man in his 40s. He complained to me that his boyfriend would only communicate with him through text. It goes like this: My stylist calls his boyfriend (also a man in his 40s), who does not pick up the phone. He gets his voicemail. He leaves a message. A minute later, my friend gets a text saying, "What's up?" So my friend calls back and again he gets the voicemail, and then another text.
The other day I was scheduled to have lunch with a friend and I noticed a bit of trepidation on the way to the restaurant. I realized that it had been at least six months since the last time that I had seen or spoken with her, despite our living just a couple of miles apart. We had been emailing regularly but had not actually met in the flesh or even heard each other's voices for all this time. When someone schedules a call with me (something we now have to schedule) I often feel a slight urge to avoid the direct interaction and simply shoot them an email instead. I suppose that I too am guilty (if that's the right word) of avoiding contact, or taking the easy way out. And so I asked myself, what are we all so afraid of? The easy way out of what? How is it that what used to be the joy of life, to see friends, connect and spend time together, has become the thing we most want to avoid?
It seems that there are two main things that we are trying to avoid by minimizing contact. First, we are removing the need to make any real effort. Relating and connecting take work. We steer clear of anything that requires work these days, and are interested mostly in trying to make our life easier. How can we do less has become the question of the day rather than how can we make our life more nourishing? To meet a friend for lunch requires that we show up with our attention. Our physical presence is more inclined to demand our internal presence. And internal presence, in part as a result of technology, is something that people are less able to access or offer, and less interested in rediscovering. If the choice is working at being present or playing Angry Birds, well... you do the math.
So too, by living through text and email, we can stay firmly situated inside our private mind-cave, hanging on to a version of our self that we like. We are safe from having to experience any unexpected or uncomfortable feelings, or any experience that might upset our idea of who we are. With direct contact removed, we eliminate any need to be porous, and thus to change or evolve. By controlling the closeness or far-ness of our interactions, we eliminate the risk that we will get too involved and actually lose ourself into the experience of life. It makes me wonder, who do we lose when we enter life? Certainly, we risk becoming someone or something different, and to this, the mind behind the screen balks, clinging to its texts in order to survive.
I am consistently struck, after meeting with a friend in person, how radically different and more satisfying the experience is than meeting via email. Regardless of whether the interaction is enjoyable or not, I always feel changed in some way: with more awareness, more joy, more to ponder. I am different, and the feeling is one of having actually lived.
Going out into the world with people demands that we expose ourselves, risk being penetrated, risk leaving our mind-cave and moving into life. It asks that we loosen our death-grip around who we are and be willing to open to the flux and flow of life. While it may not be what feels safest or easiest, direct contact with the world is ultimately what nourishes us and helps us evolve, as individuals and as a species.
So call me -- I'll pick up!