The real social network.

"Sure I'll go to the Twins game with you, but we need some condoms and a toothbrush first."

I was at Target the other day and decided to do some people watching while I was there.  I don’t know what it is about the West Saint Paul Target, but it’s a virtual couple’s hangout.  It’s like the premiere dating hangout for the East Metro.  People in WSP must say things like, “Sure we can go to a movie, but let’s go get an Icee and some tampons at Target first” or “Yeah, I can go to dinner, but we need to swing by Target to get me some clean underwear on the way.”

Anyway, I was watching all of these couples walking around arm in arm, hand in hand, and hip to hip and I noticed one person in nearly every coupling was staring at the screen of a phone.  Now, I admit I am guilty of the same thing from time to time, but I can honestly say I don’t even use my phone on dates..let alone stare into it as if it’s about to tell me my future.  We seem to have disconnected from personal connections as a young society and connected ourselves to technology.

It made me think about when I was younger.  In the 90’s, hardly anyone had a cellphone and if they did, it was a giant “Zack Morris cellphone” that probably weighed as much as a sack of flour.  It was so big you could barely even hide it under your car seat so you had to have a spare coat in the car just to use it as a phone cover up (that or a refrigerator box).  What it took away in style, it made up for in function.  A cell phone was designed to allow portable phone calls.  In a day of land lines and beepers, people could easily make a phone call on the go.  What it didn’t do was allow us to take our world with us at all times.

I had AOL in the 90’s (who didn’t?), and I was glad to take a break from instant messaging someone and go outside or go on a date.  These days, our ability to take that connectivity with us is damaging the very fiber of our personal connections.  It’s become too easy to “check Facebook” or do some emailing or texting as a way to disconnect from human social connection.  Rather than calling and chatting with a friend about a breakup, we post an “Aww, I’m sorry” to their status on Facebook and move on.  When I wanted to ask someone out, it wasn’t through an email, it was by phone or in person.  Rejection is much more poignant when it’s in person than it is online, let me tell you.  There’s just something strengthening about getting up enough courage to ask someone out only to be rejected.  It really builds character, and I am not being sarcastic when I say that.  It was also a confidence builder to do approach someone and spark up a conversation.  Dating wasn’t always easy for me and my shyness would often get in the way of me making meaningful connections, but as I aged, I learned the value of face to face conversation.

Relationships are also drawn out into the public eye because of our online addiction.  How many times have you seen someone post the emotional drama of a relationship on Facebook and had a few dozen people comment on it? Then, two days later, they’re talking all lovely dovey about that same person.  I see it almost daily.  If you and your partner are having troubles, it’s okay to talk to a few close friends, but don’t drag a few hundred people into the drama.  It should be worked out between you and your partner, not you, your partner and 185 of your friends.  When you and your partner are arguing, you shouldn’t be picking up your phone to involve your friends in a minute by minute news report of what’s being said, you should be shutting off the phone and working on the issues.  Your friends can wait until things have been resolved to be informed.

All of that said, I’m not coming down on Facebook or social networking.  After all, it’s made it cheaper and easier to advertise businesses, to keep large groups of people informed, and to find an initial dating connection.  It’s revolutionized the way we lead our lives, but a revolution is a change, not a reset, and we need to still remember the past in how we socialize.  I’d encourage you to do this:  On your next date or your next outing with your partner or friends, don’t take your phone.  Leave it hidden in the car, at home, or in your purse and don’t check it (not even in the bathroom ladies).  Take some time to renew those social connections in your life that mean something to you.  Hopefully, you’ll see more value in an actual face than you do in Facebook.