May 30, 2012

There are a lot of social, economic, personal, and cultural ramifications of the ├╝ber-connected era we’ve found ourselves in. Academics will surely have dissertation- and pop-culture-book fodder for generations to come with all the juicy material we’re providing them.

I’m ignoring the grandiose statements today though and focusing on a small facet of my very personal experience with it all.

A few weeks ago I finished writing a text message to a friend and glanced over it before hitting send.* While I’d done it thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands?) of times before, on this particular day with this particular message, I had a thought…

“Who cares?”

The message just contained an observation of something I’d seen on my way to work. And nothing all that interesting. No leopard escaped in NYC, no crazy fight with a cabbie, no accidental swim through the East River. Whatever it was (and tellingly, I don’t remember the details anymore), it was almost negligibly more interesting than my normal commute.

As I turned the message around in my mind, I tried to figure out what benefit I was hoping to bestow on the recipient by sending it… it wasn’t really worth a smile, a “ha” wouldn’t be quite right, an indignant “what?!” was overkill. The absolute most that could be said of this little nugget was that it might get a “hmm.” Followed by the hmm-er moving on with their day and never thinking of it again.

And so I cleared the message and moved on with my own day.

In the days since this very small thought about a very uninteresting action, I’ve caught myself again and again with phone in hand, SMS or twitter or facebook at the ready, preparing to share something just this side of excruciatingly mundane.

Taking it one step further, I’ve also found myself on the receiving end of such tidbits. Far from annoying, far from enlightening. Before this laughably simple epiphany of sorts, I’d have dashed off a quick “Crazy!” or “Whoa” or “Haha”… and then moved on with my day and never thought of it again. After, I started choosing to read, digest, consider whether I had anything of value to add, and in most cases, go back to what I was doing before. No friendships have blown up (yet) from this lack of volleying messages.

All of which is to say, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about saying nothing. About how it’s okay to keep a story to yourself. To not respond. To allow a conversation (using the term lightly) partner to have the last word, and to simply move on with the day.

Maybe it’s a trivial point. But marginally more interesting is the fact that sharing — and responding — seems to be the default action. I guess it’s part of the human condition — our need and quest for community, taken to an extreme by technology. I can’t help but feel we’d all be a little more engaged with our friends, families, and environments though if the default were instead to experience it all, curate, then send it out into the world, rather than the real-time sharing of every mundane and banal detail right alongside and mixed in with the actual valuable bits.

*I will forever find it ironic that I could barely be coerced into proofreading the papers I handed in throughout the entirety of both high school and college, yet these days won’t send off a text without giving it a once-over.

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