I’m sitting at Urth Cafe, sharing coffee and conversation with a beautiful girl. We’re laughing and getting to know one another – going deeper. It’s a great moment until she pulls out her cellphone and starts texting. From here forward every few minutes she’s checking her cellphone, texting, Tweeting and logging into Facebook. It becomes part of the rhythm of the conversation, which by now has devolved into superficial banter about friends we have in common.
Working in social media I am the first to praise the power of communication technology. While traveling in Seattle this past week I used TwitPic to share photos of my trip with family and friends, Yelp to get updates about the best restaurants in the city and TaxiMagic to order cabs in a click from my iPhone. These tools make life easier, more enjoyable and bring me closer to people, even those thousands of miles away. But it seems that in the past two or three years technology has become so powerful and consuming, that it demands our attention now, even when we are trying to enjoy a real moment.
The problem with real time is that it takes us away from what’s real. When something makes us angry or sad, when something makes us laugh or cry, we whip out our smart phones to text, Tweet, or TwitPic the experience to share with an undefined audience. Real time demands that this be done in the moment, and this simple action removes us from the reality of the moment we are in.
Commitments to real time social media are based on a dissatisfaction with reality. We are bored, anxious or uncomfortable in the now and real time offers an escape. We can imagine that undefined audience reacting in a way that pleases us. How many times have you stood nervously waiting for a date to arrive, attempting to look busy by shuffling through the apps on your iPhone, perhaps texting or Tweeting a mindless comment?
Being present is powerful, whether the present moment is pleasurable or painful. So I resolve to stay present, to never let a face-to-face exchange be interrupted social media. I’m not abandoning the real time tools I’ve come to love. I am just no longer going to sacrifice real moments for real time.