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Irrational Connection: Always Connected, Never Connected

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Why are we so fascinated with the notion of instant, easy connection? I understand the driving needs of the driven to stay connected on the business side of the equation, although I must admit that for years I did my best to avoid being reachable 24x7.

Eventually I succumbed and now carry my ubiquitous Blackberry everywhere I go.

From my vantage point, it looks to me like the American fascination with quick and easy is in constant evolution. A more cynical view would say it is in a constant state of mutation.

Remember the quick and easy road to riches promised in the dot com era? As an Associate Partner at Andersen Consulting -- today's Accenture -- I had a front row seat witnessing firsthand the heyday of dot com mania.

I recall all too well the hubris of the then 20 and 30-something crowd who claimed that this market was different, that the internet era would be spared the vagaries of traditional markets, and that a new reality was emerging which would lay waste to old school notions of underlying value and economic performance. Even the 40-something's were caught up in the "this time it's different" thinking.

They were right about one thing: the course of business was being radically reshaped, right along with just about everything else we thought we knew about how people would interact with one another. The internet was, in fact, a game changer. The coolest thing about the internet was the exponential acceleration of the information age and the ability to connect with people in unique and interesting ways.

It seems that our fascination with quick and easy remains alive and well, if perhaps redirected in potentially interesting and unsatisfying ways.

May I present Social Networking. It's as though the quick and easy way to fulfillment shifted from stocks, houses and excessive compensation to the quick and easy fulfillment of instant connection, facilitated by friends lists, texting and 140 character Tweets.

What's the Appeal of Social Networking Anyway?

I know I have my Facebook, LinkedIn, and Plaxo accounts and occasionally I play with Twitter. I have four websites and blog regularly. Can't risk not being connected. But am I really connected?

And what's the frenzied fascination with social networking all about, really? What feeds the voracious appetite for connection amongst our newer generations, and why is it spilling over to the 50+ crowd as well?

Perhaps it is so important because we have very little of it these days.

Heads buried in email, long hours, and unending demands to produce even more have contributed to a sense of isolation and disconnect. Schools which used to have a focus on social skills as well as basic learning, now resemble anything from an armed camp to social isolation chambers.

How's this for a sign of the times:

Connecticut School Bans Physical Contact: East Shore M.S. Outlaws "High-Fives," "Hugging" And Horseplay Of Any Kind; Violators May Face Expulsion

Now isn't that just great! Touching is illegal! One of the most basic, natural and important aspects of human connection is now grounds for expulsion? For crying out loud, are these educators even connected to the human race?

Post WWII, an experiment was conducted on what would happen if you raised newborn infants absent of direct human touch. Those babies either died or wound up in mental institutions. Such experiments were outlawed as a result. All kinds of research underscores role of human touch in various aspects of well being, and yet now we have schools banning it altogether.

Mommies line up in their SUV's so junior won't have to risk walking home with friends, and schools are increasingly cracking down on contact between kids. I understand the very real concerns about safety these days, and yet the rush to protect seems to be creating even more distance between people.

Communication skills seem to be dropping rapidly and rarely does anyone get anything meaningful about how to connect with others, how to talk through difficult issues, or how to deal with life challenges.

Want a different window into today's schooling challenge, what teachers can do about it, and also get a dose of understanding about why Facebook, Twitter and all manner of Social Networking matter? Watch this video:

Always Connected But Never Really Connecting

It seems to me that we are rapidly learning to substitute what we really need -- warm, intimate, in-depth connection and communication -- with symbols of being connected. It's as though exchanging enough IM's, text messages, blogs, Tweets, or "what I'm doing now" updates, we will somehow be closer to one another.

Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher who passed away in 1983, might have been predicting the flood of email, text and IM's when he said: "You can never get enough of what you don't truly need."

Real life happens in the spaces between blog posts, email and SMS's. Tweets are supposed to fill in those spaces with short, simple, easy to digest bits of information about what your friends are up to. If you can't say it 140 characters, it must not be worth saying.

Part of the allure is that you are theoretically learning things about family, friends and co-workers that you didn't know, as though breakfast choices or current tunes on the IPOD actually matter. Now why do you suppose that is?

Could it be that we aren't actually spending time with our friends? Could it be that when we do, we are more likely to be texting someone else than connecting with the person in front of us - who is just as likely to interrupt any attempt at in person, real life connection with their own text, Tweet, or IM?

Next week, we'll look even deeper into the Social Networking phenomenon. Is this one sustainable or will we see these tools fall by the wayside like so many before them?

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.

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If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.