Why staying plugged-in is better than you think

Technology can bridge us together, but only if we use it right.

This past Saturday, one of my friends went out to a family lake house in the Kentucky countryside. Her evening consisted of napping on the couch, watching movies and soaking up the scenery. The quiet, tech-less scenery. As she reminisced, my friend made a point to say how great she felt to be free of her laptop and cellphone, as if the devices them had been sapping her strength.

Unfortunately, not all of us have access to a lake house, especially one that’s within driving distance. On a daily basis, we have responsibilities that require the technology my friend tried so hard to avoid. It doesn’t help that some articles go so far as to suggest that such technology may be killing our social lives.

Instead of surrender, however, I suggest that we instead welcome our mecha-overlords. The key to surviving the era of Siri and Alexa isn’t abstaining from our smartphones and tablets, but using them in ways that nurture our offline relationships.

Let me give a example that’s in-tune with the season. Say you’re planning a Valentine’s evening for you and your loved one. Dinner for two is always a choice, but what if you both want to watch a movie? Do you limit your choices to the films airing in theatres, complete with those noisy kids in the back row and the globs of gum that stick to your fancy shoes? Or do you both head on back to your dorm, bundle up together under the covers and pull up the perfect movie on your iPad?

As technology becomes a bigger part of our lives, we need to be more intentional about our usage. It’s easy to get lost in the dings and vibrations coming from our pockets, always reacting instead of taking action. To overcome the urges, we can take a page out of the modern gamer’s handbook.

As a freshman, I always played online games with friends scattered across campus from the comfort of my room, settling on Skype and the in-game chat to communicate. Although we’d always have fun, our time never felt as real as whenever we’d eat out at Mellow Mushroom or stay up late writing papers together in the Stevenson Library. It always felt like I hadn’t really hung out with them. That was, until, one of them said to bring our laptops to his room out in Blakemore.

It was as if someone had supercharged us. Here we were, hovering over our computers, all four of us crammed in a room meant for two, and we loved every moment of it. We stayed up late, ordered pizza at 3 a.m. and guzzled bottle after bottle of Coke. Looking back, I now realize that the little things, like clearing off part of a desk so a friend can set up their computer or fighting over the last slice, had turned another gaming session into a night to remember.

Technology provides us with chances for more of those nights, but it’s up to us to seize those opportunities. So when you’re going through your Facebook feed, open up your cyber world to the person across the table. Don’t just send them a video. Watch it together on your phone. Use the technology to close the distance between you and others, not widen it with Facetime and Snapchat. That way, you won’t need to drive all the way to Kentucky just for some peace of mind.