Written by Katrina Daniel Thursday, August 19 2010
“Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight? Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?” (Lyrics by Roy Turk and Lou Handman)
OK, the bit about the parlor is outdated, fine, but the rest of the lyrics of this old Elvis Presley song are prophetic, only not quite the way Elvis might have imagined.
In 1995 there was a cool and, it turns out, prescient movie called The Net, starring America’s sweetheart, Sandra Bullock. She played a computer programmer who telecommuted to work via the internet. Her bosses and coworkers had never met her in person. Her mother had Alzheimer’s and no longer recognized her daughter, and Bullock’s character ordered her dinner and groceries online, so the only person who really knew her to see her and to whom she actually spoke was the pizza delivery guy.
Her life was totally technical and virtual, and when she had to prove that she actually existed, she couldn’t. She had no one in her life who knew her in person. Nobody called her for lunch, nobody called her to go to the movies. Nobody called her, period.
While we’re able to stay in really close touch with our friends and families, today’s technology also allows us to do so without having to see or talk to them in person.
Lovers are breaking up via text message. Marriages are announced via Evites. Our best friends aren’t calling us; they’re texting, emailing, and tweeting. But then who does that leave for us to actually talk to – yep, the pizza delivery guy.
A study that made news recently declared that people with lively, active social lives live a lot longer than those who are isolated. Well, duh.
Renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow determined that the need for social acceptance, interaction, and activity to foster feelings of love and belonging is the cornerstone of his widely recognized hierarchy of human development and needs.
But as many modern women and men are learning, that pool of friends with whom to talk, exchange ideas, and gain inspiration is drying up, as more people are downsized from their jobs. Still others have voluntarily opted to work from home. The result is also that people become isolated. We are no longer privy to water cooler gossip or company happenings that might enhance our work experience, inspire, empower, or amuse us.
“I already spend so much of my day in front of the computer that I really crave that human connection that comes with phone calls or spending time with a friend,” says Stephanie Seiler, owner of Gemini Bioprojects LLC, a public relations and marketing firm in Brier, Wash.
“In my office,” says real estate broker Cathy Griffin, “we actually send emails to each other so as not to ‘disturb’ one another’s work. Technology was going to make our lives easier. It has made our lives lonelier and much busier.”
Tammy Van Gieson, president of the Mountains to the Midlands South Carolina Susan G. Komen affiliate, says much the same thing: “My phone isn’t ringing that much anymore, either. While it’s convenient and quicker to communicate via email or texting, you lose a lot of the inflection, the feelings, attitudes of people with whom you are communicating. You can make mistakes, have misunderstandings that you don’t have on the phone or in person. People can take things out of context if they just read an email and don’t talk to you in person anymore.”
It happened slowly. First, our home telephones, now known as landlines, rang less often as people phased out home phones because they carried their cell phones with them everywhere, even to the bathroom. (How many times have you heard a toilet flush while you were on a cell phone call with someone?) Then, email, texting, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, all combined to take over personal communication. At what expense?
“We are missing this in our daily lives, it cuts down on our feelings of belonging, of social acceptance, of being a part of something,” says psychologist Cheryl Alterman, Palm Beach, Fla.
Alterman says this lessening of face-to-face or telephone communication is unhealthy: “It can lead to isolation. And, during these times of economic and world tension, people really need to feel connected.”
Experts suggest the following:
- Establish a routine with friends. Make arrangements to meet for a walk around a park or a lake, for late-afternoon coffee, after-work drinks.
- Take a scheduled exercise class that puts you in a position to talk and physically be with others.
- Join or form a club: bridge, book, motorcycle, scrap booking, cooking, jewelry making. All such activities put us in a place where we enjoy that active social life that’s going to make us live longer.
The possibilities are endless here. Get busy.
As for the Sandra Bullock movie, rent it and learn.
Katrina Daniel is an award-winning journalist and broadcast reporter/anchor. She has worked in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and as a national correspondent for several networks. She commutes between Miami and the Carolinas, writing for magazines and news organizations. She lives with one horse, four dogs, and a cat.