Are We Too Connected to Connect?

There is no doubt that technology is making it easier to connect with one another, and to connect with many more people at once with far less effort. But I am wondering: Is the quality of our communication diminishing, becoming shallower as it becomes broader? We want to connect with so many people at the same time that we may fail to give each one the proper attention. Maximizing communication is invaluable in business, but can we apply the "same message for everyone" principle to our personal relationships without consequences? Does efficiency negate intimacy? Director Andi Timoner describes the phenomenon as "50% more connections with 50% less depth."

Is hyper-connectivity connecting us to more people or is it disconnecting us slightly from everyone? Are we connecting or simply connected? Are we moving away from being fully present and engaged because we are too busy broadcasting to the world that we are indeed leading an interesting life? Socrates once said: "the unexamined life is not worth living." Well, it seems that the modern version of this profound statement is: "the unrecorded life is not worth living." The question is: is the unlived life worth recording?

Too much of the time, communication devices and the hold they have on us are becoming a convenient substitution to communication, rather than a useful addition to our communicating tools, while the illusion of being connected relieves us from the responsibility of having to actually talk to or see people in person. Now that we have Skype, Facebook and Twitter, how long will it be before we no longer need shoes?

Last week I was at a dinner with a few of my friends, and I could not believe how many of them were physically present without ever being there. We had not been able to get everyone together for a very long time and I thought we were all looking forward to catching up and having a good time. But instead, they spent the majority of the time on their Blackberries sending messages or checking messages, Tweeting, updating their status, taking photos for instant Facebook upload, telling everyone who they were having dinner with, while not actually having dinner with me or each other.

It almost seemed more important to broadcast to the world they were having a good time than it was to contribute to actually having one. Whatever happened to the long, inexplicable shared pause that used to make us say an angel was passing? Each picture taken was interrupting a conversation we had started, and often the thread was lost. At any given time, for at least one person, the body was present but the mind wasn't.

Since everyone at the table was doing it, it seemed acceptable instead of what it really was: rude. I am sure that Emily Post would agree that there are proper ways to use technology in social settings. What would you think if you were having dinner with someone and suddenly they started knitting? I think you'd probably find it rude -- because it is. Nothing says: "You are not important enough for all of my attention" more than dividing yourself between the person you are with and your devices. Naturally, there are very valid exceptions to this. If you are waiting for a heart transplant, working on the Middle East peace process, have young kids at home, or you are juggling other life-or-death situations, you do what you have to and everyone understands that.

Before the advent of the cell phone, we all managed to survive. Now we get the clammy sweats if we are on the way to the store for a quart of milk and realize we left our phone home. What if my boyfriend calls? What if he doesn't, and I don't know that until I get home?

This behavior is becoming such a widespread and worrisome phenomenon that we now have rehab programs, and the term "Technology Addiction" has just been added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. When you have a rehab program for something, it's quite obvious that the phenomenon has gone mainstream.

Woody Allen used to say that 90% of life is showing up. Well, I would humbly add my modern corollary: You can only give yourself a 90% if you are fully present.