01/23/2015 03:03 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2015

Our Illusion of Connectivity


Three years ago I wrote a blog post about the illusion of connectivity. It said:

"I go to Facebook. I go to email. I check all the addresses. I go back to Facebook. I check my blog. I go back to Facebook. In all, I find not what I am looking for. It is not satisfying. I see posts I share. I read here and there. On email I get Truthout, read through the articles. Find one that is really interesting. Read to the bottom. Post on Facebook. Go back to email. Go to Facebook. Read Salon, click on the link to "Continue Reading." Go back to email. Nothing. Something from Powell's. Something from Bug of the Day. Go back to Facebook. Share a picture of some cute animal or funny thing from George Takei, but overall, no connection. Not really.

I go to these websites alone in my house looking for a connection but there is not one. I want to communicate. I want conversation. I want intellectual stimulation. I want to discuss philosophy, that amazing talk by Alain de Botton on atheism. I want someone else to care as much as I do about what we are doing to our planet. But it's all futility, bytes and pixels and illusion that there is connection. Searching from page to page, hoping one of the people I know will actually speak to me, to ME, and not to the general public that is their online community, is an exercise in futility. We claim to be more connected than ever, but actually we are further from connection than ever before. Just because I can share a comment with a friend I met in the Hague last summer does not mean there is any connection. It is so minute as to be laughable. I read a story that brings tears to my eyes. Instead of talking to a friend about the details there, I post a comment that says, "Dang, I cried." "Me too," she comments back. That's the extent of it.

I long for stimulating dinner parties with friends. Or sharp banter about books over warm drinks in a cafe. Or even stupid, silly dancing and laughing with a best girlfriend. Yet I know this is an idealized version of community cultivated by movies and books. It doesn't exist for most of us, if anyone. It sure as hell doesn't exist for me. I've tried to pull it together, to be the one who invites everyone over to make some feeble attempt at this, but no one ever shows up. I have a serious knack for being stood up at parties by all my guests. I think the problem isn't that I'm some loser, but that I have an idealized idea of how these things should be, and that most or all of my friends have other things to do and are simply too busy."

A year after writing this essay I returned my smart phone for a dumb one. Within a month, the feeling ended of constantly needing to switch from one task to another. My focus returned. I was able to read a book without feeling distracted. I got a smart phone again this year, primarily because the price was better than the dumb phone. Go figure. Yet I've made a point not to let it suck me into the distraction vortex. I'm not always successful, but I'm trying.

A year ago, I deleted my Facebook account. I have not missed it. Deleting myself from Facebook confirmed what I knew that day I was lamenting our lack of connectivity. It was six months before someone said, "Are you off Facebook?" A few more people asked after that. The trouble with Facebook is that its purpose is to extol the self. If someone suddenly doesn't extol the self, it may be a while before anyone realizes you are no longer there.

I have changed. I do not bounce from site to site on the internet hoping to find stimulation. I do not use Facebook. I avoid using the smartphone as a babysitter for myself. I try to go where real people are and connect with them whenever possible, but this part has been nearly futile. What has not changed has been the lack of real human connection. We are all still "too busy." I seek people out and schedule lunches or coffee, but these are often cancelled. A friend and I vowed to eat dinner together once a month. We've eaten together once in the last four months.

So it continues. I make phone calls when I'm in the car and can't do anything else (don't worry, I have a car phone and I'm completely hands free). I write and wonder if anyone I know will read what I write. They usually don't, but I don't begrudge them. If what I said was interesting, they would still be too busy, just as I am too busy. It's our 21st century with its illusion of connectivity. It's sad really.

Sometimes I wish I had a big, ol' front porch in a close-knit community where everyone came to shoot the breeze. I know, I know. Too many movies like The Jane Austen Book Club, or Fried Green Tomatoes. It's what some team thought of and put together on celluloid. I get it. Just like the teams that make families in catalogs look just a little too perfect. Just like Photoshop. It's all an illusion. I don't think we are better off. Not even close. It's lonelier. It's isolating. And without a major shift in the way our world works today, I have no idea how to change it, at least for me.