Social Connection: The Unplugged Series: Chapter 3

img_5513I truly believe that human beings are naturally wired for social connection.  It’s in our nature to seek out rich, fulfilling relationships.  This is a universal trait that knows no cultural or socioeconomic boundaries.  Our desire to fulfill this need manifests in various forms: breaking bread with friends, cheering for the local sports team, taking the risk to meet someone new, and in its most intimate form, a loving marriage.

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Technology has been a boon to increasing the speed & accessibility of social connection.  Cell phones, text messages, webcams, and social media connect us to friends, families, colleagues, and strangers like never before.  But, technology can be a double edged sword when it comes to social connection.  For every human connection that technology helps facilitate, there is the risk of impeding just as many.

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Our propensity to feed our tech addiction has already sparked numerous social commentaries & images of how disconnected we truly are at times.  A mute herd of people tethered near a power outlet at the airport gate.  An eerily silent subway car full of faces kissed by the subtle glow of their LED screens.  A mother, father, and their two children at a restaurant table, each staring at their own tablets, without a semblance of interaction.

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One can literally live an entire day immersed in a technology-comfort-zone-bubble.  You can: read about world events thru a news app, order delivery food & groceries at the touch of a button, bail on a friend at the last second via text message, entertain yourself with streaming movies, and hide your shyness in the conformity of wearing headphones while staring down at your phone as you wade through the crowd when you finally step outside.  Technology has made it too easy to be shy, avoidant, non-committal, and risk averse.  I don’t want my child to spend more time with an LED screen than with actual people.  But, often times I find myself setting a poor example for him.
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The first paragraph of this article was started over a month ago, but it’s been stuck in draft form since.  I finally got around to working on this piece on a flight back home from San Diego to Chicago.  I purchased in-flight WiFi and had caffeinated my creative juices to slam out this post in the solitude of my music cocoon that my headphones provided.  But, then it happened.  Human voices pierced the tech force field that I had shielded myself with.

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It was the voices of Tim & Lucy, a couple from San Diego who had briefly said hello and made some chit chat with me right after boarding (real names changed to respect the privacy of this lovely couple).  I remember a split second of debating whether to cut off the conversation & resume my laser focus on this piece vs. giving this interaction a chance to breathe and to see where it went.  I chose the latter and my life is better for it.

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Tim & Lucy told me about their upcoming trip to the midwest to visit their family.  They gave me a brief history lesson about how San Diego.  They illustrated how it had changed from the quiet California town they once knew to the bustling hub of activity it is today. Then, they told me about their children & their longings for a future grandchild.  I also got to hear about their once-in-a-lifetime concert experience at the Desert Trip and getting to hear some of their favorite artists like the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Paul McCartney.

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I had a chance to tell them about my family & show them adorable pictures of my son Tyler. They advised me on places to check out when I return to San Diego with my family.  I shared about my work in healthcare and my thoughts on the state of our healthcare system.

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We had a chance to talk about politics.  Tim shared how he is getting the hang of golf and I talked about how much I suck at it.  We talked about the family unit in America and how that has evolved over the last few generations.  I shared about mindfulness and we agreed on the general lack of it in our day to day lives.  We talked about Korean culture and Christianity.  We talked about social skills and how technology has changed how we interact with each other in society.

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The second half of the flight flew by, because I was immersed in this fascinating conversation.  It was so easy to be engaged with a couple who were clearly full of life, experience, and passion.  Eventually, we said our goodbyes and parted to our respective families.
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When I got home from my trip that night, I shared about our conversation with my wife.  I told her how I need to literally open my eyes, ears, mind, and heart for opportunities such as these that present themselves on a daily basis.  Opportunities to connect. Opportunities to: bring a smile to someone’s face, learn something new, reminisce, brainstorm the next big thing, lift someone’s spirits, start the healing process, start a friendship, and to fall in love.  These opportunities are all around us all the time.

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I’m happy I put away my laptop and chose to connect that day.  I hope my son Tyler will witness me do more of this as he grows up.  I hope he fills his life with rich interactions, experiences and relationships.

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With each passing day, the details of our conversation on that flight will get fuzzier and more difficult to remember.  But, I want Tim & Lucy to know that my life is richer & fuller by having met them.  Their impact on my attitude towards social connection still resonates as I am typing this today.  And, there will always be a warm memory of my flight back from my first trip to San Diego.

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Unplug to connect.

~Andy K

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