Skip to content

The Erosion of Personhood

2013 June 12

We all do it. Check Facebook to find out how a friend is doing rather than calling them. Leave a comment on an Instragram photo and consider that making contact. Take our phones out during a party or dinner with friends and fall down the rabbit hole of Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Tumblr/Snapchat/whatever else you can possibly check so that you don’t have to make actual conversation with actual human beings.

Look, I’m guilty of it too. To an embarrassing degree. The only people I talk to on the phone anymore are my family. Even text messages have become something intimate, a couple of witty texts substituting for a real conversation. The same goes for g-chat. If you’re not on g-chat, chances are I don’t talk to you on a regular basis. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even email friends anymore. What’s happening to us? Is this a symptom of getting older, a natural process of falling out of regular touch with your friends and acquaintances, or is it something more permanent, an erosion of our relationships due to ever-changing technology?

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot recently, because frankly, I miss my friends, and I feel like a jerk for not keeping in better touch. Truthfully, many of them are probably in the same boat with me, where they’d prefer NOT to talk on the phone for a catch up session, but convincing myself that my friends are probably too busy to want to hear from me is not a good pattern of thinking to adopt.

Yesterday, I read a piece in the New York Times by Jonathan Safran Foer, and it struck a chord. Called “How Not to Be Alone,” the piece relates a situation where the writer was sitting outside in Brooklyn, and a young woman was sitting opposite him, crying. Because it was easier to keep scrolling through his phone, that’s exactly what he did, instead of asking the girl whether she was alright and if he could help. Granted, many people, especially in New York, would choose to give the person privacy and mind their own business. But Foer’s argument is that our phones are making it easier and easier to withdraw into ourselves and ignore other people. And I have to agree with him.

Joe and I have often talked about how we’d like to put our phones away when we get home so we’re not distracted from each other, but despite our awareness of the problem, we find ourselves sitting on the couch, mindlessly scrolling through our phones in silence, for what seems like hours on end. Sometimes I feel like a robot. My brain is telling me to put my phone down or shut my laptop and go wash the dishes or walk the dog or read a book or do some writing, but my fingers keep scrolling through, my brain placated by all the pretty pictures and accessible content. There’s never any end to it! If I wanted to sit there forever and just keep scrolling, I could. And that’s terrifying.

Based on psychological studies, Foer writes, “The more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the expense of depth, the less likely and able we are to care.” And what happens when we stop caring? When we’re sacrificing more and more of our human contact and relationships for whatever happens to be on our screens?

I feel like I’m being preachy here, and it’s not exactly a new concept, but I want to make a real conscious attempt to use my time more wisely and cut down on my screen time and consumption–unless it’s writing emails to friends or working on the blog or other writing. So friends out there–I’m sorry I’ve been a robot. Expect some emails from me. MAYBE even a phone call. Watch out.




*Image via

4 Responses Post a comment
  1. Raquel permalink
    June 12, 2013

    I read the same piece a few days ago–it came at the right time because I’ve been feeling rather disgruntled by technology lately same as you. I’ve started making a no-more-screens rule after a certain hour of the evening and I am sleeping better than I have in months as a result. I am also committing to no phones when I’m with another person unless I take it out to show them a photo, look up directions or the time, or place a call. I realized I hated feeling indebted to technology, rather than feeling like I’m making it work for me. I already spend most of my workday looking at just a screen, so I want to focus on looking at someone’s face! :) I like the no-phones-with-my-partner rule and will be enacting it more firmly from now on, I think.

    I don’t think there’s ever a need to apologize for “being a robot”–I think it happens to all of us. Technology is so easy to mindlessly slip into. I think it’s great that you realized how it was impacting your life and that you didn’t like it, and you decided to make some changes. I’m looking forward to seeing how you progress. (And seeing you, woot!)

    • Jill permalink
      June 12, 2013

      I’ve heard that turning off any screens at least an hour before bed really helps improve sleep quality–glad to hear it’s working for you! I’d like to implement that for myself as well–I try to at least read a little bit (in print) before bed, but sometimes just get lost in my phone right before sleeping. Yuck.

      I’ll keep you updated on my progress!

  2. June 12, 2013

    Well said. Although I don’t have my phone out at home, I’m constantly scrolling through things on my laptop to the same effect. My college roommate isn’t on Facebook, so we’ve scheduled biweekly phone dates to keep in touch. I might have to start doing that with more people.

    • Jill permalink
      June 12, 2013

      I have a monthly Skype chat with my college roommates, which is a great way of staying in touch, especially since we’re scattered around the country and are all doing a variety of things. I hope you find a way of fitting in more time with friends, less time with screens!

Leave a Reply

Note: You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS