Column: Are you feeling connected?

For a world that prides itself on its instant connectedness, we’re a sorry bunch of loners. Armed with our precious tablets and smartphones, we enter the ring alone, and exit alone. Often, there’s no winner. Our society has come to believe that the more technology we have at our disposal, the more powerful and capable we are. The pervasive “I-can-be-anywhere” or “get-anything-in-an-instant” attitude has spawned a generation of people who are isolated by choice, but erroneously think themselves connected. In short, digital technologies have distanced us from real life.

How many times have you been at a restaurant and witnessed a couple completely ignore each other, so engrossed are they in their smartphones? It makes me want to scream “Why don’t you just stay home? Or go out alone? Stop ignoring her/him!” We have morphed into a society that values screen time over face time. REAL face time. Not Facetime. Digital relationships are trumping meaningful real-life ones.

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It’s gotten so bad that scores of Millennials are losing their interpersonal skills (if they had any to begin with). They have hundreds of virtual friends and virtual relationships, but get them in a room together physically and they don’t know how to interact. Their lives exist online, and anyone could be behind that digital curtain. Alternate identities are ubiquitous – exhibit A, Wizard of Oz. That guy or girl you think you’re texting with could really be a cocker spaniel.

There’s no denying the fact that technology has created a pandemic of social isolation and loneliness. Those who invest their time exclusively online risk becoming disconnected from real-life. So, being more connected can actually lead to being more disconnected. For Millennials and others, relationships are growing more superficial all the time. And because so much can be misconstrued in a text or email, we’ve lost the ability to read people’s actual feelings and intentions. LOL, emojis and emoticons pretend to mean something, but are empty surrogates for real life. In reality, ROFL can mean you’re actually crying on the inside but want to make a good show of it for the person on the other end of the screen. Acronyms as smokescreens.

Since technology has made it so that we don’t have to leave our homes for anything –

groceries, clothes shopping, restaurant food, dating, entertainment, etc. – there’s an even bigger risk of feeling detached from one another. One a larger scale, loneliness and social isolation have been shown to lead to anxiety and depression. Plug in the variable of retirement, and you have an even bigger problem.

As retirees age, many lose touch with former co-workers; their adult children may be pre-occupied with their own families; health issues crop up; friends are dying; and the world seems like it’s shrinking. While in many ways technology is a boon for retirees since they can be in contact for free with friends and relatives, it can also serve to intensify their social isolation. Which is why it’s so crucial to get out there and show up for life. In person.

It’s simple. Go for a walk and make a point of saying hello to a stranger. Visit your public library and check out the free programs. Join a seniors group. Start a dinner club with friends. Anything. Just leave your home and computers behind. Except your smartphone – always take that with you in case of an emergency.

And wear sunscreen.

Got questions? Text #Shelleycares.

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