Have you ever ghosted someone? It hurts more than you realize.

Ghosting, simmering, icing. I recently learned about these terms in the context of personal relationships. If you have spent any time at all online, you most likely have experienced it too.

Essentially, the terms mean to ignore someone’s message. Whether it is a text message, an inbox message or email, ghosting means to disappear or not respond. It is common practice and somehow considered nearly socially acceptable in today’s ultra-fast-paced world.  It makes us feel bad on the receiving end. And we have experienced what it feels like too. And yet we do it with virtually no consequence in real-time. We don’t have to see the person’s pain. The threshold for rudeness is lowered considerably. It happened to me with someone I had had an intense relationship for years. And suddenly, she didn’t respond to my text one day. And that was that.

Ignoring all in the name of busy. Or avoidance. Or simply not caring.

All in the name of “not enough time”. “I’ve got to go.” “I’ve got to run.” “I’ve got to..”

What exactly?

According to an April 2017 report drawn from a survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 8.3 million American adults or 3.4 percent of the U.S. population suffer from serious psychological distress. That includes anxiety, depression and stress. While some point to economic factors resulting from the Great Recession starting in 2007 as the origin of our collective pain, I would hazard to guess that there are other variables that have added to our failing well-being as well.

Consider this. 2007 was also the birth year of the very first iPhone. Social media became a new platform of expression as people carried their social lives in the palm of their hands. Texting was no longer novel as it was easier to type – and ignore messages.

The rise of channels such as Snapchat offer a great example of heartless and brainless engagement. My sixteen-year-old son told me that even he finds it ridiculous to send quick photos of anything at all to friends just to keep up the number of „flames“ that are supposed to reflect your commitment to your relationship with that person.

“Snapchatting a picture of the ground just to stay on top of your flames? It’s ludicrous,“ he told me.

It is almost as if life has become one big video game. According to NHS data in the UK, social media is a large component of poor mental health among girls age 17 and below. Online activity has become a feeding ground for discontent, plummeting self-esteem and sadness.

Social media is a numbers game. How many followers/fans/friends can you attract? How many likes/loves/laughs? Meanwhile, true engagement with the people right next to you at the dinner table doesn’t happen because our heads are buried in our screens.

According to MediaKix, the average Internet user will spend 5 years and 4 months of his or her life on social media and only 1 year and 3 months socializing in person.

I am not a technophobe, Facebook dissenter or social media curmudgeon. In fact, I use technology and social media daily. It is how I make my living. It can have great value if we use it properly. But I have noticed a rapidly growing trend of disconnection while feeding into our inherent need as human beings to connect.

We are connecting with machines, not the people using them.

Note to Self podcaster Manoush Zomorodi recently discussed our obsession with our phones with her guest Esther Perel. Ms. Perel’s advice is the same I would give.

  • Take five minutes out of your day to call someone you care about. Don’t text. Don’t inbox a message. Speak to the person. No one in distress would ever say, „Damn, I wish you hadn’t called.“
  • Make a list of people you have ghosted. You know you have a few. Clean up the mess. It will lead to less distress – for you and the person affected.
  • Regain control of your social media usage. If you see something interesting from a friend on Facebook, for instance, ask that person to meet for coffee to discuss it more. Use Facebook to inform what you will talk about in person – or on the phone if that person lives far away.
  • Look people in the eye. Practice at the check-out counter. When completing your transaction, look at the clerk directly. Say „Thank you.“ Smile.
  • Put away your phone more than usual. Start slowly, such as leaving it outside the bathroom while you do your business there.
  • Create gadget-free zones. Mine is the kitchen table. Food, beverages and conversation belong there. Not i-Anything Else.
  • The best way to teach empathy is to be empathetic. Actions speak volumes. Words – especially 140 characters – do not.

In a November 2016 Philadelphia magazine article entitled “How We Became Me“, Sandy Hingston bemoans the massive decrease in civic activity and our growing lack of exposure to people who don’t quite think as we do. We used to engage in sports, the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, church events and the like that required a higher level of tolerance amongst various groups of people. Today, we build online networks of like-minded people. As a result, our ability to tolerate different mentalities is shrinking.

It is easy to lock ourselves away in a bubble of online activity. But true human connection starts with true human beings. Using social media responsibly is an important step in making us feel better about ourselves and our surroundings. Joining a club may not be the answer, but it is worth asking the question: How will I spend my time today?

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