"I dwell in possibility" ~Emily Dickinson

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Interaction: an essay of the rambling sort

Posted on: 3.21.2014

My thoughts lately have been spiraling around one question: what is valuable human interaction? It’s kind of an odd question if you think about it because human interaction is so necessary, so daily, so much a part of the human experience that to sit and ponder it feels a little strange. It might be akin to sitting around pondering the value of air or water or nourishment. {Although, to be perfectly honest, I have pondered those things. Thinking about things is just my nature!} This question of valuable interaction has weighed on me recently in a way that sometimes feels oppressive or smothering. I almost feel like I’m wrestling with a hazy cloud of vague ideas encompassed by the grey area of our socially saturated culture. 

One thing I’ve been able to tease out of this hazy thought-mass is that the pervasive world of virtual communication is not satisfying. I’m sure some would heartily disagree with me. They’d probably lay out valid points of argument and I’d be happy to give those points an affirmative nod in response: maybe something about virtual interaction satisfies them in a way that is lacking for me. My thoughts on this are deeply personal and are largely a result of who I am and how I see the world. From my perspective, I see virtual forms of communication and think: there’s just something missing. 

It took me a while to recognize that there’s something missing for me when it comes to virtual socialization. And I suppose it might be helpful if I clarify what I mean by that phrase! Virtual socialization, to me, refers specifically to platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and the like. They are places where one can glean information about other individuals without ever needing to communicate  or emotionally invest in another. Don’t start thinking that I’m some anti-Facebook guru or something: I’m certainly not! I jumped right into the world of online social platforms with the best of them! I created my first myspace account at age 14 and transitioned to Facebook at age 17. As embarrassing as that is to admit, I have to say it makes me think about some of the mob mentality that often comes with swift, widespread cultural change. 

Sometimes it seems that with rapid cultural change individuals don’t always stop to think about their actions. I know my 14 year-old-self sure didn’t. As a teenager I didn’t recognize the way an online social sphere would impact my generation’s method of interacting. I didn’t take the time to think about how the Facebook “like” button would impact my thoughts on what was valuable. I didn’t stop to realize how much personal information was divulged by my “friends” without any sensible filtering. I’m thinking about these things now as I’m growing into adulthood. I’m combing through some of those habits I formed in my teenage years and realizing how many actions are byproducts of mindlessly moving with the masses on a trajectory of social change. 

As my generation has grown into adulthood as the first to discover a new form of community that is easily-accessed but doesn’t require much emotional investment, I wonder if perhaps we’ve lost something along this path. We may, indeed, be more connected than ever before. Our professional networks may be more expansive, our personal friends might stay in our lives longer, and we may even make new friends and embark on new relationships as a result of the ability to access virtual community easily. For me, the benefits of my ability to make widespread connections pales in comparison to the raw, personal investment that comes with getting coffee with a dear friend. 

Those face-to-face interactions that allow me to read through the hollow words of a friend and recognize that she’s hurting are so, so valuable. I want to be the type of friend who doesn’t just “like” a friend’s status update or picture but who walks alongside a friend in authentic community. I want to be there to encourage the friend who is going through something I’ve been through, to lend my ears, to offer a hug, and to extend advice when necessary. 

Valuable human interaction in my opinion, is the type of interaction that exists both on and off-line. 


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