Technology and the Cherish Factor

A close friend had some great news to share recently. I found out about it on Facebook.

I like social media. It’s valuable for entertainment purposes, staying in touch with far-flung friends and family, and improving certain elements of work. We can share daily details from our lives, swap funny stories, and make an observation or two.

But I think we’re getting carried away—by sharing way too much that is way too personal.  I have seen people announce the engagements of other people online. People fight and couples break up on Facebook. I have seen pregnant friends post sonograms of their fetus for the whole world to see.

You might not think that’s a particularly big deal. As I said, Facebook is valuable for sharing the details of our lives. But in sharing too much, I believe we’re losing something I call “the cherish factor”: the deep intimacy of sharing and cherishing the most important events in our lives with the most important people in our lives.

When my close friend recently got engaged, for instance, I wanted her to tell me privately. I wanted an intimate moment to celebrate together and cherish this wonderful news. Moments like this enrich our relationships and deepen our bonds. Because I read her news on Facebook, however, that moment of cherishing never had the chance to take place.

The cherish factor goes beyond big news as well. Imagine a night at home with your family: few experiences are more important to cherish and savor. Already, though, we have allowed technology to penetrate those sacred times. An intimate dinner or a walk in the woods with one’s children is so easily disrupted by the ring of a cell phone. Our iPhones chatter, our email distracts us, each of us watches her or his own TV. This will only become more of a challenge as advances in technology provide more ways to reach us.

It’s hard to set boundaries when the technology makes us so accessible, because people’s expectations change with technological advances. What if you don’t respond right away? Will people feel less valued because you’re not responding? Will they worry about your well-being?

There’s another issue here as well: I think we can talk about new technology in terms of addiction. The experience of the iPad and other gadgets is addictive in itself; so is the need we feel to be reachable at all times. We get sucked in before we know it.

Still, while setting boundaries is difficult, I think we have to do it. We need to respect the face-to-face, human interaction that allows us to cherish one another. We need a separation of technology and “real life.” Where we draw that line will depend on our individual circumstances, and that’s OK. But we must make a point of making the choice. Only then can we preserve and protect the cherishable parts of our lives—the parts that make us more deeply human.