Before Stephen March wrote his thoughts in The Atlantic that Facebook was making us lonelier, there were several people arguing both sides for years. It's intriguing to consider how technology is changing how we relate to one another as it is happening.
We're living in a time of major flux, a real transition in our culture, and it would be wonderful if we were aware of what was happening as it is happening. So let's take a momentary glance at Facebook and the rest of technology that we use every day and see the importance in starting The Great Mindful Experiment.
We can make the argument that it's not the medium of social media that's making people lonelier or helping them feel more connected, it's the way people relate to the medium. In other words, as John Grohol, CEO and founder of Psychcentral.com, points out, it's possible to feel wonderful about being connected to hundreds of "friends" and still make time for those that are closest to you.
It's a matter of awareness and choice. There's already many copies sprouting up and getting venture capital around creating smaller, more intimate social networks. There will be another evolution to social media.
Harnessing our interactions with social media starts with awareness, and it's my opinion that most of us don't have much awareness most of the time we're interacting with it. What I mean by that is that the new digital devices of the day, (e.g., smartphones, tablets and all the latest apps) are incredibly attractive to the pleasure centers of our brain and oftentimes hook us without awareness.
Just think: How many times have you had the intention of working on something only to be pulled away by a Facebook, Twitter or chat message? Or how many times have you been speaking with someone and an alert on your phone dragged your vision to the phone itself, disconnecting you or splitting attention from the person you are there with?
Or worse yet, how often have you, yes you, been pulled toward a text while driving only to find yourself actually responding to it. This is an insidious way of creating disconnection in our "in-person friendships" and actually putting us and others in harm's way that we're oftentimes not aware of.
The fact is, the mediums themselves are fantastic and offer an incredible amount of potential. It's just that as a culture, we're not mature enough to handle this type of technology yet. It's beyond our developmental capacity.
Carl Rogers once said, "It wasn't until I accepted myself exactly as I was that I was free to change." That's what this means. Once we can accept the reality of this, we can begin to apply more mindfulness to the technology, advancing awareness of our interaction with it and moving toward more skillful ways of relating to it.
Facebook, Twitter, chatting, texting and all the wonderful new ways of connecting are an evolution in our culture; we just need to peel the lens back a bit and watch ourselves as we engage in this great big experiment.
We can treat this as a "Great Mindful Experiment," watching our reactions, seeing what feels pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Is time spent with "non-virtual" friends being cut down, or are you able to connect with them with the same amount of time and quality of attention? Does "screen time" take you away from other important things in life like exercise, meditation, or other hobbies, or are you able to give them the same time and quality of attention?
There's no definitive answer; the answer lies within each of us, and it will serve us well individually and as a culture to take this experiment on.
Before beginning this experiment, let's pause and STOP (a short, guided video from The Now Effect):
Enjoy and let us know what you find.
Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.
For more by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.