Once upon a time, we stayed in touch with family and friends by getting together. As families and friends started living farther away from each other, the phone had to suffice. Then, time became more scarce and email became more prevalent. With the advent of "smart" phones, we began texting. And then, finally, there was Facebook.
All of these things--phones, email, text messages, social media sites--have been designed to make "staying in touch" easier, faster, better. So why do we feel so alone? And why is it, the more we know about our friends (via places like Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus), the less we actually learn these things firsthand? Or, is it firsthand if it's a status update and you're reading it?
I have never been one to eschew technology. I embraced texting on my phone and couldn't wait to get a smartphone so that I could have it "all" at my fingertips. The day I got my iPhone was better than Christmas, birthday, and graduation rolled into one. But when I recently sent out an email inviting twelve friends over to hang out, and got five responses--no, not five positive responses--five TOTAL responses--I had to ask myself, "Where did everybody go?" Because this, you see, seems to be the norm in my life, and I suspect, others as well. Invitations are sent via email, Facebook Events, Evite, or, pity the thought, the USPS, and if the party planner is lucky, 50% of the guests will bother to respond either way. I am guilty of this as well; I don't preach from a guilt-free pulpit. My daughter has been invited to birthday parties I have "forgotten" to RSVP to. Our family has received invitations to holiday parties and weddings we could not attend and so therefore did not RSVP to. I consistently receive Facebook and Evite invitations that barely register in my conscious mind.
And yet, somehow, it feels like I am the only one feeling shunned by this behavior--this habit--of not acknowledging that someone, a real flesh and blood person, has explicitly and specifically reached out in hopes of cultivating a real-life gathering of real-life people. First, it was the phone. I would call friends to say hello, check in on their lives, and share something from mine. Instead of a phone call back, I'd get a text: "Thanks for ur call, all good here, how r u?" Then, I started tossing emails into cyberspace, never to see the boomerang again. Finally, I resorted to "poking" friends on Facebook, sometimes to enjoy getting "poked" back. Now, if I want to know how or where somebody is, I need to check the Facebook news feed. If I am lucky, I can send an email to a friend via Facebook and actually get a response. If that doesn't work, then posting on someone's Wall usually does.
It doesn't feel like enough. I miss my friends. I miss feeling like I actually know something that the whole world didn't find out first because I hadn't had a chance to check Facebook all day. I miss getting phone calls from friends, even though I mostly know they don't call because they are trying to be polite and not call too late at night, or during the dinner-bath-bed rush that most weeknights consist of. Maybe they've even stopped calling because I was guilty of not returning too many phone calls myself (if they were after 8 pm, then probably). Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but talking on the phone feels like the best replacement to actually being in the same room with someone, since we're all too busy or too far apart to make that happen on a regular basis. And, well, if you happened to be in the same room with me recently, then you should know just how much I treasured that opportunity.