How to Stop De-Humanizing Yourself

There was a time when we carried cell phones (technology) for necessity but are we increasingly carrying it to kill time? You see, technology indeed celebrates connectedness but at the same time encourages retreat. Where do you draw the line?

I was sitting in the quiet area of the public library, when I overlooked a stranger cheerfully scanning every single face in the library. Without thinking, I went back to scrolling through email on my cell phone.

About two hours later, I leaned back in my chair to stretch when I was surprised to see the same person, as joyful as the first time, yet again doing the same thing. This time, I made eye contact (with a confused smile) and surprisingly enough he came up to me and sat down beside me.

“Hi! I am Tim!” he said.

Long story short, Tim was suffering from chronic depression and was trying to get comfortable with human interaction (Hence, scanning the faces in the library). It only took about 60 seconds to notice the scars on his arms, his deliberate effort to smile, and the pink flesh from under his eaten up finger nails.

He was a junior student at my high-school about 3 years ago and had seen me around. He told me that he has not been able to go back to school for the past two years but seeing someone (me) from his high-school gives him hope that he will.

His dream was to be a “anti-depression hero” and eventually saving his mother and his sibling – who also suffered from depression.

As he walked from my lonely table, I looked around me and then back at my desk. Cell phone. Laptop. Tablet. Headphones.

You see technology celebrates connectedness while encouraging retreat. My cell phone didn’t make me avoid the human connection when he came the first time around, but it did make ignoring him much easier. Was my daily use of technology shaping me into someone more likely to avoid human interaction?

We all know people who pretend to use their cell phones while waiting for a friend in public. When walking home alone we prefer to text and walk while avoiding anything human around. While working out or jogging, we like to stuff headphones in our ears to isolate ourselves from mother nature.

Here is the deal:

  1. Why do we prefer sending a text message instead of calling?
  2. Why do we prefer shooting of an email instead of a skype call?
  3. Why do we prefer calling when we know the other party won’t pick up and just simply leave a voice-mail?
  4. Why do we rather post “HBD!” on facebook instead of calling up the person?

You see all these scenarios help you avoid the emotional work associated with dealing with a human being directly. Yes, it saves time. But is the saved time worth it in the end? What use is technology if it makes the saved time less present, intimate, and lacking human interaction?

I am not “anti-technology”. Actually, I am quite the opposite. But the harmony lies in the balance of technology use in our daily lives.

People like Tim don’t walk around in every library, but everyone of us is always in need of something that another person (not technology) can give. We can bring a significant change in another person’s day if we simply are more attentive of our surroundings. There is no better satisfaction in aiding such need of others. Aiding others may not be the point of life, but it is a work of life. Because we all subconsciously know that we all will one day face death.

Key Takeaways

  • Limit technology use in public. Only take calls if absolute necessary.
  • Call up friends to wish happy birthday.
  • Put more effort towards smiling and greeting strangers.

6 comments On How to Stop De-Humanizing Yourself

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  • Consider:

    1. Twitter has changed the definition of ‘human interaction’

    There are some people, particularly on Twitter, whom I’ve never met before but have come to know simply because
    of Twitter’s format. Through tweets, I get ‘bite-sized’ info of their lives and interests and over time have built up a snapshot (and I hope I’ve done the same for them) of their personalities. I should be putting more effort into meeting all of these people, but based on my experience of meeting one of them, the intereaction via Twitter prior to meeting was helpful in breaking the ice.

    2. Facebook has changed the concept of a ‘friend’

    On FB, how many people do you know have over 1000 friends? over 500? In fact, I bet 99% of your FB friends have at least 100 friends.
    Out of these 100, how many of those would a person actually spend time with in person at least one day a year? Maybe 50% at most?

    Shouldn’t the traditional, more widely accepted, definition of friendship include people you spend time with and enjoy each other’s company? Today, the definition has changed to include that of someone you met at a random event or occassion and once and awhile like his or her pictures or statues. There’s nothing wrong with this latter meaning. In fact, it would be challenging to say the least that you could actually convert 500 “FB friends” into “real friends.”

    My point with all of the above is that it is not only about saving time that we interact with people the way we do through social
    media, but it’s become a matter of having different types of “friends” at different stages: some we’ve never met, some we’ve met once, some we know well, and some that would become part of our wedding entourage one day. And we interact with these different stages of friends in appropriate ways.

    With all of this in mind, what’s great is that developers are listening and realizing that we need to interact more in person. Platforms are being developed to bridge the online and offline worlds.

    One such platform that I’m a big fan of is Foursquare.com. You create a profile and check in to venues (restaurants, stores, even subways, etc.). After you’ve built up a friends list, you get alerts (and they alerted of your activity) whenever they’re nearby which is a great opportunity to meet up with someone you don’t know very well but perhaps can grab a coffee with because you happen to be in the vicinity. The only issue right now is low adoption but as these platforms become more popular, hopefully we’ll all be – not necessarily limiting technology – but harnessing it for more human interaction.

    • Its mind-boggling to try to consciously come to realize the change facebook, twitter and even wordpress (which I am on right now!) has brought to “humans”.

      On a brighter note, we are social beings. Thus, we will figure out a way to have more emotional juice in our lives. The example you gave of fousquare is a living proof.

      Thanks again John for the thought provoking note!

      PS: I highly recommend checking out his blog at http://blog.socialfocusconsulting.ca/. He has some awesome posts (especially the one about volunteering at a hospital).

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