Technology's constant presence in our lives certainly seems to indicate that we are not present in one another's lives. "Everyone is always having their attention divided between the world of people they're with and this 'other' reality," Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, shared with Bill Moyers -- and that was nearly three years ago. Turkle's work on the subject of technology and its role in our lives certainly spurred a dialog, but inevitably, it did not cease the momentum of technological advances and their interference in our physical, social lives.
Today, this theory moves beyond acceptance of interference and into a territory of mild shame and/or light addiction. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 89% of cell phone users cited using their phones during the last social activity or gathering that they attended. Moreover, 82% of adults reported that their cell phone use hurt conversation in social settings.
With phones pulling us away from each other and the present moment so often, are there any mobile advances out there that still empower a physical interaction or the slightest preservation of the past? Although there is a macro-level issue at hand here, it's worth naming a few services that present a silver, albeit micro, lining.
First, there are the more obvious sites and apps like Meetup or Grouper that are a natural starting point for anyone who wants to break through their comfort zone, meet new people (in the flesh), and rally around similar interests. Then there are the more unique approaches that blend a component of the fading past and the rapid nature of present day technology.
One of these old-meets-new services is an app called Felt. As it's name suggests, there's a level of human empathy required to use the tool. The premise is simple: Felt allows you to create and send your own handwritten cards. "We're trying to balance out today's communication. Nearly all of it is currently going through email, text, and chat," says the company's founder, Tomer Alpert. "Felt let's you make that special impact you want for birthdays, thank you's, and holidays."
As a huge fan of handwritten letters and cards, I was skeptical that this service could duplicate the sentiment -- but gave it a shot when I had an opportunity to send a thank-you note to a friend and opted to send a photo card. The whole process doesn't take more than a few minutes (not including your personal message-drafting time) and the result is a tasteful, well-designed card. I was curious to hear if the service has impacted its users or changed behaviors and discovered that it's actually become a game-changer for some unexpected use cases.
"Felt's been used in super special moments," says Alpert. "A young girl who hadn't spoken to her mom in ten years broke the silence using a Felt card, a man with MS sent his wife their first love letter, and someone sent their dad his 100th birthday card using the app."
Although it's going to take a lot more to make a dent in our culture's lack of in-person moments, technology might bring individuals into more intimate moments for the first time, as shown by the man with MS -- and I think that's a silver lining we can all get behind.
We may be alone together, but at least we are still honoring the tradition of sending a thoughtful note to loved ones.