April 24, 2013

Why It’s Important to Connect & Have a Conversation.

“We don’t hang out anymore.”

This was a statement that I (embarrassingly) admit has been said to me on more than one occasion. For the longest time it annoyed me—largely because I didn’t know if the person on the other side realized how little time I actually had for myself, let alone other people.

Of course there are many reasonable excuses why one may not be able to hang out, some of which include, “I’ve been busy with [fill in the blank].”

Of course we have plenty of tools to keep the lines of communication open— from text messaging to Skype. I even started my Facebook page inevitably to keep my family, friends and fans in the loop with my day-to-day activities. The reality is, however, that even these forms of communication are a bit inadequate. The instant and omnipresent world of communication has increased our capacity to connect on a perfunctory level but in some cases has thwarted our capacity to have real and meaningful face-to-face conversations.

The two forms of communication—virtual and physical—can work in tandem, but the physical kind obviously takes a bit more effort, but most often results in a far more meaningful experience.

Case in point: My announcement on Facebook that I was traveling to Guatemala resulted in a reply from a good friend that I hadn’t seen in five years announcing that he too was in Guatemala—just an hour’s drive north of where I was going to be. Seeing that I had made the decision to “take a break” from my traditional go-getter-type lifestyle, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to spend a few extra days reconnecting with my friend Paul.

What resulted from that effort was not only a good time in Guatemala, but also a reignited passion for a previous project we were working on together, and the desire to shoot a new weekly video series featuring conversations with cool people about what really matters most.

I have to give him major credit for the birth of the series, not only because he was encouraging, but also because he wanted to be a part of it with me. As we started to brainstorm over dinner, we realized that we were both tired of the modern-day interview—ask a few cursory questions and move on.

Short, to-the-point interviews aren’t necessarily bad; they actually make more sense in the modern context, particularly as more and more of us gravitate towards the catchy headlines, summarized content and snappy sound bites that flash across our mobile devices on our way to work. Ultimately, however, short interviews are more like a drive-through at McDonald’s, where you grab a bag of greasy fries, eat on the go, and your body and mind are like, “Wow, I feel full but I didn’t get any nutrition and now I feel bloated!”

Conversations—particularly deep ones—are more akin to Grandma’s home-cooked meal made with ingredients that she just picked fresh from the garden. We might not always have time for the latter, but if given a choice, we’d most likely opt out of the drive through and head straight to Grandma’s house.

So when I decided to take a break from my work, the question arose of how I wanted to spend my time off. The reality was after years of building businesses, managing clients, and ultimately other people’s expectations, I hadn’t had the time to really reflect on my life—nor had I had the chance to really connect on a deeper level with many of the cool people that I had met along the way. The truth was, I reached a juncture where I wanted to spend less time with my technology and more time with good people.

Less text. More tête-à-tête.

It all became more apparent when I realized my friends (some of whom I hadn’t had a conversation with in a long while) were ultimately feeling the same imbalance. In some cases, their feelings were more acute than my own. Some were regretful that they reached the age that they were and had not made time for more intimate relationships; some professed that they didn’t know who to talk to when a personal problem arose, and even still, some didn’t know how to honestly answer the question when asked, “What do you do for fun?”

This all may sound a little unusual to those of us who make time for deep, personal connections, but I realized by stopping and sitting down with these people that I love and admire, that it’s actually more common that we might care to admit.

A recent op-ed in The New York Times mirrored some of these observations. In particular, the article explored how we can actually “re-wire” our heart and brain to become more secluded. It contends that if, “you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.” In summary, if you don’t go out of your way to form meaningful, personal friendships beyond the virtual ones, you may lose the ability to do so in the future. A sort of “use it or lose it” model. What was also intriguing about the article was that through these connections, you actually build up your biological capacity to not only empathize but also improve your health.

Heidegger probably had it right when he made the prescient statement that, “Technology makes us at home everywhere and nowhere [at the same time].” We are more connected than ever, yet we remain walled off behind our smartphones, mobile devices and computer screens. Perhaps our communication tools are more cosmetic than we think; they have yet to master the ancient and inimitable art of human contact.

Though this conversation series is ironically online, I hope that it gives you a good reason to sit in and listen, join in the conversation, and even inspire you to have a deeper conversation of your own with someone that you care about.

The people who I chose for the series are arguably some of the most dynamic individuals that I know who really give a damn about the world around them. They are both interesting and interested. However, all of them have made an effort to be aboveboard about their life and work. Instead of focusing on the sound bites, they take the time to mine out the gold nuggets of what makes them tick, what scares them, and where they find the most meaning out of life.

I hope that you enjoy this new weekly series and I would be happy to connect with all of you on what you enjoyed the most, what guests really resonated with you, what questions you’d like to ask them, and any people that you’d like to see join in on the conversation in the future. In the meantime, enjoy the podcast and most importantly, your time with those that you care about.

You can follow Summer Rayne Oakes Conversations here every week, on summerrayne.net, and on Twitter @sroakes #SROConvo.




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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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