It makes all the sense in the world: If someone is accessible, easier to contact, then it is not much of a reach to assume that we can easily establish and maintain a connection with that person, right?
Not so much.
The fact is that the more accessible we are, the less connected we have become.
Remember when there were no cellphones? Some of you reading this never experienced such a time. It might as well be the story of Abraham Lincoln walking miles to school in the cold Illinois winter with no shoes on his feet. That’s how ancient a world without cellphones seems.
But not that long ago, if you wanted to talk with a friend, you had to use your land line phone at home. If Mom or Dad or a sibling was already on the phone; sorry — you had to wait. But when you got your chance to use the phone, it was the best. Tethered to a wall with a cord and dumbbell-heavy receiver, that was your chance to connect and catch up. And if you were not home? There were these things called phone booths — a phone inside a big glass box that took your loose change (back when we had that, too) to make a call.
We also used to write letters. Real letters with a pen and paper. They required actual handwriting — not typing on a keyboard. You needed an envelope and a stamp and a postal workers to deliver it; it took days and sometimes longer for your letter to reach the recipient. Remember those awesome, nerve-wracking, anxiety-laden moments of writing, then mailing a love letter? Some of you do. Now, they’re largely gone for good. Today, it’s a few seconds, a couple of taps or dictation, and a click.
The reality is that when communication was more difficult, when it took more effort and more work, it mattered more. If you took the time to write a letter, you really took the time. You thought about it, maybe crumpled a few sheets of paper first before settling on what you really wanted to say.
People used to look forward to checking their mailbox each day. If we got a letter, we would go inside, sit down, open and read it. Focus. Smile. Maybe write back. And a phone call from a friend or grandparent? Was it so bad to have to sit in one place and talk? The phone cord imposed a structure and forced us to stay focused, without the flexibility to multitask. The conversation, the person we were writing or speaking to was what mattered.
Technology is an amazing thing, it really is. The problem, though, is that, while technology has created more conversation and communication, it has come with a lot less focus. Less human interaction. Less connection. And that, folks, is just not a good thing.
There is no going back to the days of wall phones and writing regular, lengthy “snail mail” letters. That doesn’t mean you can’t take some time to call a friend without distraction or write them an occasional letter. Tell that loved one how you feel, what’s going on in your life, or just “hello.” But don’t do it with an emoji; do it with a stamp.
Married for 35 years, Julie and David Bulitt (firstname.lastname@example.org) are, respectively, a family therapist and divorce lawyer. They are co-authors of “The Five Core Conversations for Couples.”