Gustafson: Unplugged and Uplifted | AspenTimes.com

Gustafson: Unplugged and Uplifted

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

There is an inescapable adjacency and intimacy on the chairlift. The seatmate luck-of-the-draw, coupled with a predetermined amount of time when all forms of iDevices are inconveniently inaccessible, can all lead up to some gawky silence.

And since it is somewhat instinctual to fill the void, spontaneous chairlift conversations inevitably arise. For me it feels refreshing to sit and experience that pause and break from the typical pace of plugged-in modern society. I also find it uplifting to discover just how quickly complete strangers tend to uncover a common thread, assuming the small talk is well received.

New trends toward being left alone while together, i.e. constantly texting, posting, or emailing while in the physical presence of others — as an avoidance technique — is becoming disturbingly more and more common.

There seems a growing willingness to accept the illusion of companionship without the demands of new connections, perhaps enabled by an over abundance of social media and a culture that promotes its constant usage.

I keep asking myself, are we becoming more anti-social as social media takes over our lives?

Yes, the virtual world allows us to be what we think we want to be — edited, rehearsed, filtered and airbrushed — but not who we genuinely are — spontaneous, authentic and often awkward in real time and in real life. However, I still think we need to see and hear (maybe even smell) each other and stumble through those unedited fumbles to truly connect.

In this day and age, meeting real live strangers in real life is becoming less common. Riding the lift and chatting with someone new may seem trivial, but I think it’s valuable as we are slowly becoming culturally lonely-together because of our increasing dependence on social media and our devotion to our handheld devices.

When I’m with someone who jumps on their phone, even briefly while we are face to face, I feel like the action asserts that I am less important than virtually anything or anyone else that might come to them through their devise.

And my concerns are broadened beyond how we relate to others; it’s also effecting how we relate to ourselves. I think of this when I ponder what’s in store for my kids and their future plugged-in lives.

Take for example the old adage “if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it …” and modernize it to, “if you experience something in real life and don’t post it, did it happen?” Did you still enjoy your experience even if no one else “likes” it? “I post therefore I am.”

As we lose the context of our real-life identity by creating an edited story posted on social media, we have rewritten our own personal narratives. And sometimes, we just might find that we like that person a little more than we actually like ourselves. Yikes.

“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life,” advised President Barack Obama in his impassioned farewell speech.

I agree. I like meeting people, in real life. I think there is a value there that could get lost if we forget the art of conversation because we can so easily buffer encounters with strangers through the use of our iDevices — eyes down, earphones in, wall up.

I, for one, want to see my friends in person and share stories about our lives and ask questions, because I don’t feel like I should already know all about them based on their virtual profiles. I love chatting on the chairlift, awkward as it can sometimes be. Thank goodness for nature and the boundaries it still presents against technology.

It wouldn’t surprise me if one day soon — possibly a season or two from now — we find some form of touch-screens available on the gondola or lifts; much like they are becoming commonplace in cars and, yes, even on strollers. Which, in part, is why I think we need to consider the simple notion that just because we “can” do something doesn’t mean we “should” do it … technologically speaking.

In fact, my generation may be the last to straddle what it was like to come of age before your social realm also had to include Facebook and Twitter. Before, we had to develop an online identity along with our real life personality. Before, the anonymity of cyberbullying and stalking, when individuals were held personally accountable for their behaviors, and our mistakes were not permanently documented online and open for endless judgment.

I really enjoyed sitting down in person with a variety of community members at the Plan Snowmass visioning session last week.

It was invigorating to chat, debate and dream with neighbors and to meet new community members face to face as we all came together with a common goal.

And one resounding theme I heard throughout the day was that we still crave emotional connectivity and want to find real physical places where we can meet and greet. We acknowledge that we are in need of a central location in the village. Some believe we are lacking a “Main Street” so to speak, and others said we need some form of “community living room.” I couldn’t agree more.

One unique feature of Snowmass is the lack of mail delivery, which creates the on-going opportunity for community members to spontaneously run into each other, thus fostering a friendly small-town character.

I think it is important to at least put away our devices and look around once in a while before we all become cyborgs like the futuristic “blob-people” in my one of my kids’ favorite movies, “Wallie.” Watch that for a potentially disparaging sci-fi prediction and remind yourself of how those sci-fi predictions often do come true.

I believe that we need to unplug — I applaud the introvert and the creative genius that comes from time spent alone, disconnected, in nature, or deep in thought, soaking in the bath and, yes, skiing, but also walking home from work, driving without the radio, dreaming in bed. Those moments when the experience we’re having right now is more interesting than the one we may tweet about later.

I’m not suggesting we deny ourselves the potential connections social media can offer. And I believe technology, as a human creation and at its best, can enhance the human experience. But as its creators, we should stay in control and know when it’s time to unplug, look up and talk face to face with the people we happen to be sitting next to — perhaps on the lift — from time to time if we want to truly live in real life.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about?

Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.


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