THE BLOG

The Value of Being Alone Together

08/21/2013 03:43 pm ET | Updated Oct 21, 2013

People on the steps of the MET in NYC by Simone Smith

At a conference last year, I was delighted to see a scheduled talk on technology and relationships- then horrified to attend a hour-long diatribe against technology, which is apparently sealing us into tombs of isolation comprised of screens and mobile devices. I had practically pranced to this talk, which I assumed would be a celebration of the manner in which technology and the internet has significantly augmented physical meetings and activities, only to find a room full of people who earnestly believed that technology is the bane of genuine, real-world experiences.

If you share these individuals' opinions, please allow me to put your mind at ease. I would like to show you how technology and "being alone together" has helped many people become more social than they could ever hope to be in low-tech circumstances.

We live in a very extroverted society. It is assumed that socializing is easy, invigorating, and energizing for everyone. Let me assure you this is not the case. Many of us are introverts. Though we may enjoy in-person socialization, it is incredibly draining. If introversion is a foreign concept, try to think of it like dancing or playing your favorite sport- doing it can be fun, but after three nonstop hours, you need a break!

Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone and having quiet time. They simply can't socialize as much as their extroverted counterparts (who actually derive energy from social interaction). Introverts aren't the only segment of our population. The ADA reports that around 15 million Americans have social anxiety disorders. Socialization is often not very easy for these individuals, either.

Here is where being alone together comes in. While many aren't able to enjoy extended periods of intense socialization, they can engage in what I like to call parallel play- doing quiet, independent activities in the presence of others. As a very introverted child (and a still rather introverted adult), parallel play is one of my favorite pastimes.

The ubiquity of the internet and preponderance of mobile devices and laptops available today have revolutionized parallel play. Now, there are more opportunities than ever for people to spend time together in a quiet, independent, but non-awkward manner. Introverted and shy friends can spend high quality but low-key time together watching YouTube videos, writing posts, books, and fanfiction, playing video games, or building something cool, like a website, app, or piece of art. I used to only be able to hang out with friends for short periods of time. Now I can spend many more hours with others as we plug away on independent projects.

The internet and a litany of mobile apps have also made it far easier for shy and introverted people to make new friends. For the first 24 years of my life, I didn't date and made few new acquaintances. The prospect of going to crowded bars, clubs, and events to meet new people was just too intimidating. Social networks and dating websites changed everything- they provided just the sort of controlled, private onramp I needed to climb aboard a variety of social scenarios. Without dating apps and social networks, I would be short one fiancé and many friends. Having met and spoken with hundreds of people who share my social hesitations, I know I am not alone.

With these considerations in mind, I simply ask that you think twice before jumping to conclusions about a group of friends silently staring at devices. Sure, they might not be boisterously interacting, but were it not for that technology, they might not be interacting at all.