An engagement

What does it mean to have, or make, a connection with somebody?

Is it as simple as maintaining eye contact, as having a firm handshake, or just listening to what someone has to say? In an age of digital communication, emoticons, and buttons to help us “like” and “share,” what is the real value of a face-to-face connection?

The arguments around whether digital discussion is as valuable and “real” as an in-person discussion go as follows: Either you state that because emotions and micro-expressions are lost in the typed word, digital “relationships” are somehow de-sensitized to the human condition, and less meaningful. Or, you believe that it is the quality of the relationship and the people involved that defines its value, regardless of the medium of the conversation.

I have always backed up the latter, arguing that it is possible to build and maintain a strong relationship with someone via social media or with the help of technology. For example, is your connection with an acquaintance more meaningful simply because you only ever communicate face-to-face, versus your relationship with a Tweep you interact with on an ongoing basis, with whom you discuss global trends, issues and conflicts?

Absolutely not, I’ve said. And I’ve been adamant about this up until two days ago.

But the reality of it, is that when we’re online, it’s so easy to forget that we are interacting with other people. Instead of telling someone how we feel, emotions and all, we can type a carefully crafted Facebook message and send it off into space, knowing it will land, but not knowing the impact our landed words will have.

Truly, there’s a sense of comfort in the convulution of technology. We don’t have to be real, or wear our hearts on our sleeves. And the best part is, it’s not technically dishonesty, just technological detachment, and it provides such a great buffer from hurt and regret and vulnerability. It’s preferable, reassuring to know that we can retract words we don’t mean, or brush off words that mean a lot.

Now when we go to talk face-to-face, it’s easy to forget that our face will inevitably give us away, and that this time, there is someone there to watch it. We see how much of an impact our words can have, and what’s normally not a big deal – not getting an immediate response to a text – becomes a terrible feeling of unworthiness: Seeing that the person you are trying to engage just can’t be bothered to reciprocate.

There is great power and positivity that can come from meeting and greeting in the real world. You can leave a lasting impression, and have a personal impact on somebody else. You may even find how much of an impact others can have on you, if you let them. And if you’re open and willing to seek out the best in everybody, human nature’s capability for kindness and caring may reveal itself to you in a big way.

Embrace it.

We are told that we should constantly be learning, that we should overcome a fear every single day. We’re told that the secret to life is to constantly be growing and bettering ourselves as human beings, communitarians and global citizens.

It takes about 30 days to make or break a habit: The perfect amount of time to strive to be a better person, or to be better at cooking, or tennis, or being honest. So for the next 30 days, my goal is to be more connected to the people around me.

It’s an engagement to be engaged, to not be afraid of making a connection, and to maybe learn to be a little more human in the process.

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