Texting and Twittering Increase Connectivity but Detract From Meaningful Experiences

As cell phone use, instant messaging, and participation in online social technologies such as Twitter become more widespread, our society, or at the very least my generation and the ones after it, are becoming increasingly more spontaneous. People are more connected, more in touch, and just in general more in the know about what the happenings are in the world around them. Parties are organized, e-invites are sent out, and guest lists are compiled all from a cell phone at the grocery store in front of shelves stocked with dishwasher soap. We should rejoice, right? After all people are communicating with one another! Efficiently!

But I think that there is a dark side to this revolution as well. And there’s no denying it - it IS a revolution. It is a revolution in which the present is preeminent, a revolution that could turn the organized human being into an impulsive, mechanized, social drone. Where there once was clear communication and coordination there will now be compulsive multitasking and extraneous busyness. The hours of the day will be ever-shifting, non-linear, and dangerously pliant.

When you are only a text message away, the inhibition exhibited by some in contacting you is slowly abolished. People text you, wanting to know what you are up to, and then you must interrupt what you are up to in order to tell them that, yes, you are up to something. And then they ask you how it is, and you say, “gr8”. Then they ask if you want to hang out at the movies in an hour.

And now you have a choice.

You can continue to do an activity you enjoy with someone you enjoy being with, or you can leave that activity to hang out with another person whom you enjoy being around and doing things with. And worse, you alone are the deciding factor in making the decision. Your friend can’t look at you disapprovingly while you answer a private text the way they can when you are audibly waffling over the phone over whether or not to alter your evening plans. This choice would not have existed had you simply turned your phone off and directed your full attention to the activity at hand. Not only have you now spent time answering a text, but you have taken time out of a joint activity to do something private. You might as well have pulled out a GameBoy for five minutes.

BRB, person I’m hanging out with!

The choices you make regarding your time should cost you something. Opportunity costs should abound over the course of how you decide to spend your day. These costs are oppressive enough, but when you add in the ability to change what you are doing into every waking second of the day, things can become hectic. Moreover, planning an activity, at least in my experience, results in heightened anticipation for the event to transpire. This past Christmas, my mom gave me a ticket for the "A Prairie Home Companion" show last Saturday. I had to wait two months for the show, and every minute of the hundred-and-twenty that I sat in the Fitzgerald Theater was worth the wait.

When you make plans on the fly, however, there are no anticipations and, therefore, your enjoyment of the new activity that you spontaneously decided on is, more often than not, a merely average experience. It was something you did because you didn’t have anything else to do. Or maybe you did, and you thought the new activity was going to be better, in which case you now have to compare two activities that you were perfectly happy doing in order to make sure that you made the right choice. You have unknowingly heightened the chance of you regretting your own decision.

A few weeks ago I was making plans on Facebook with a friend, whom I hadn’t seen in months, to hang out. It was in the afternoon, and I asked, “How does tomorrow morning sound?”

To which I received the reply, “I don’t know, I might have plans. I don’t have anything at the moment, but something might come up.”


My attempt to make a plan was being subverted for fear that something, no doubt something more fun, might spontaneously demand my friend’s full attention! Here was a guaranteed activity - hanging out with me in the morning for a hour or so - that was left hanging because other plans might need to be made in the next twelve hours. (We did actually hang out the following morning.) And to think that I used to plan accountability lunches, with two or three other people, weeks in advance! What was I thinking!?

Now all this flexibility, like I said before, is not all bad. We can multitask, stay in communication, and stay active with people. However, I left one part of my story out. I don’t text or Twitter. And when a large part of organizing social life goes on in that realm, and it will increasingly do, those who don’t participate in the technology, like me, will be left out of the loop. It is akin to the last townsperson without a phone showing up at a town meeting that was moved to the evening before. The poster on the bulletin board still says tonight, but everyone else got a phone call about the change.

Now, that is progress - phones definitely make things a lot easier. But how easy do they need to be? This brings me back to the point about planning an event adding to its significance and expectation. I was perfectly able to organize my social life over Facebook and the telephone. I made plans, I showed up for appointments, and I even was flexible when if a friend phoned telling me that he was running late or couldn’t make it at all. But now I have to wonder, is that the truth, or did he just get texted a “better” offer?


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